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: 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 “” 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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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).

The day ahead: April 15, 2019

I’m out today. (How to contact me)

I’m taking a personal day today, to recover physically from traveling and a month of 60-plus-hour weeks. Also I need to finish doing my taxes, as today is the deadline in the United States.

The day ahead: March 11, 2019

I’m in continuous meetings throughout the day, and will be hard to contact. (How to contact me)

I’ll be in a long morning staff meeting, lunch with a Colombian colleague, a visit to Senate committee staff, and a call with a House staffer. When at a desk, I may be analyzing the White House budget request—both homeland security and foreign aid.

At least on foreign aid, I may not rush to put the numbers out by the end of the day (i.e. “the White House wants to cut Colombia aid by 35 percent”), as I have in the past. The Trump administration’s foreign aid requests have been so unrealistic, and so quickly and summarily rejected by Congress, that they don’t deserve a rapid-response analysis.

The Homeland request, which is to include a big ask for the border wall, is a different story: even though Congress will reject it, we know that the White House will go to ridiculous lengths for it. Speaking of which, this week the Senate will vote this week on (and approve by a narrow margin) a resolution rejecting Trump’s national emergency declaration moving funds to build the wall, which the president will veto.

In Colombia, meanwhile, the president just line-item-vetoed the legislation that the post-conflict transitional justice system needs to operate. I’ve already done an angry tweet, but before publishing more I need to hear from Colombian colleagues and analysts who understand legislative procedure, in order to judge how severe a blow this is to the peace process and what can be done about it.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Even more here)

January 23, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

If both measures fall short, the votes could add new energy to efforts to negotiate a bipartisan compromise

The four women, all volunteers for the Arizona-based aid group No More Deaths, were convicted after a three-day bench trial at a federal court in Tucson. They could face up to six months in federal prison

The Supreme Court is not likely to review during its current term the program that shields young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, leaving in place the Obama-era initiative

The bill doesn’t appear likely to end a partial shutdown of the federal government that stretched into its 32nd day Tuesday

2018 was a year of turmoil across Latin America and the Caribbean. Homicide levels have reflected this uncertainty, rising sharply in parts, continuing to drop in others


Bolsonaro spoke for barely more than 10 minutes, delivering an address observers characterized as “lifeless” and “wooden”

Colombia, Cuba

Duque will find it hard to back down from his current position, while Cuba has no obvious place to send the ten ELN negotiators, who are now in limbo

La insistencia, tanto de la Cancillería como del alto comisionado para la Paz, de ignorar los protocolos pactados con el Eln es un golpe a la credibilidad del Estado, que sabotea cualquier intento futuro de entablar procesos de paz


El Comisionado de Paz, Miguel Ceballos, ha argumentado que Cuba debe extraditar a los elenos que están en ese país como negociadores con el Gobierno. Eso a pesar de que ayer se filtró el protocolo

Colombia, Cuba

El Gobierno noruego respalda la decisión de Cuba de acogerse a lo pactado


“Las acciones militares son compartimentadas. Es un principio de la guerra y el Eln la aplica. Solamente las saben quienes están involucrados en ellas”

El Salvador

The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death


“It literally feels like it’s on the edge of the precipice and just over that precipice, you’re staring back at [in] the 1970s … and you’re staring at [a] massive violation of human rights”

The law would establish the total extinction of criminal responsibility in cases related to the internal armed conflict, as well as the application of the principle of non-retroactivity of the law in any of these cases


Destacó que Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala son los primeros países que visita desde que asumió debido “a los desafíos de seguridad” que esta región ha enfrentado en los últimos años


The 10 weeks of testimony at the trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug lord known as El Chapo, have revealed that his innovative smuggling network typically went through legal checkpoints

Tras el incidente, la Administración de López Obrador reconoció que a Tlahuelilpan solo llegaron 25 soldados y que la Secretaría de la Defensa tuvo conocimiento de la fuga del hidrocarburo cuatro horas antes del incendio

Por votación de 7 votos contra 6, la Comisión de Puntos Constitucionales del Senado (con mayoría de Morena) rechazó la propuesta de legisladores de oposición, de extender la discusión sobre la Guardia Nacional, invitando a especialistas y organizaciones

Around 5,600 Central Americans are awaiting visas at Tecún Umán, on Guatemala’s border with Mexico, Mexican officials said Tuesday. The visas would allow them to continue their journey north without the risk of deportation from Mexico


“What happened in Cotiza shows that working-class sectors, and those loyal to Chavismo, are willing to take to the streets — and even back those who take up arms”

“I think we will be turning a page on Wednesday,” he said. “But it’s not the end of the chapter and much less the end of the book”

Mr. Guaidó’s ascendance as the face of the opposition could herald a new, more confrontational stance with the government, where the military will be actively courted as allies, said Ms. Tintori

This week’s developments have surprised analysts, who had thought the opposition to be too fractured – and Venezuela too divided on class lines – to bring about change

As I told Mr. Guaidó last week, President Trump and the U.S. stand resolutely with the Venezuelan people as they seek to regain their liberty from dictator Nicolás Maduro

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