I’m boarding a train to New Haven this afternoon. There tomorrow, I’ll be leading a workshop about the border/migration crisis at Yale’s law school. Before that, late this morning, I’ll be recording a WOLA podcast that I hope to post tomorrow morning.
It appears that the Administration expects Congress to be satisfied with receiving agency tours of facilities—in some cases without the ability to photograph conditions or interview detainees—and not to question the policies or decisions that agency officials make. That is not the way effective oversight works
“Creo que mis principales logros tienen que ver con haber generado una conciencia ciudadana. Que la lucha contra la corrupción sí era posible, que sí se puede adelantar investigaciones serias y profundas independientemente de quien sea la persona a la que se esté investigando”
Cientos de migrantes están varados en las fronteras guatemaltecas debido al cerco de seguridad del gobierno mexicano. México cedió ante las presiones estadounidenses y desde hace unos meses generó un cordón de policías, militares y agentes migratorios en el sur
El jefe del Ejército de Nicaragua, general Julio César Avilés Castillo, por primera vez dejó clara públicamente su posición al considerar las protestas civiles un intento de golpe de Estado contra el régimen
Dijo que Estados Unidos seguirá presionando hasta lograr elecciones libres y democráticas en Venezuela
Michael J. Camilleri, “Plan B in Venezuela” (Inter-American Dialogue, Foreign Affairs, September 3, 2019).
Rather than clinging to the fading hope that pressure alone will topple Maduro, Washington should reorient both its sanctions policy and its diplomatic engagement around the search for a negotiated pathway to elections
I’ve got internal WOLA meetings all morning, and a border-related call in the mid-afternoon. Otherwise I should be in the office, writing: I’m close to completing an ugly first draft of a report on our visit to Mexico’s southern border.
Here’s an English translation of a column I wrote for the Colombian political analysis website Razón Pública, which it posted today. It voices strong concerns about Colombia’s military, especially its army, which has been showing signs of institutional backsliding all year.
The Colombian Army’s Very Bad Year
Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America
The ties between the U.S. government and Colombia’s armed forces “are like the heart of this [bilateral] relationship,” said outgoing U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker, in his last interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo. “They are very dear to us and very professional. There are elements of the Police and the Armed Forces that have a 21st-century character and are among the best in the world.”
Let’s leave aside how troubling it is that an ambassador in any country might say that the military relationship is more central than the diplomatic, commercial, or cultural relationships. Is the latter part of Whitaker’s statement true? Have Colombia’s armed forces—especially its army, which makes up 84 percent of all military personnel—become a professional twenty-first century force, among the world’s elite?
For much of this decade, Colombia’s military seemed to be headed in that direction. Accusations of extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations plummeted after 2008. High-ranking officers participated honorably in the peace talks with the FARC, and about 2,000 current and former soldiers agreed to participate in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The armed forces developed a forward-looking new doctrine as they sought to adapt to a future, for the first time in decades, without a large-scale national-level insurgency. NATO agreed to include Colombia as a “global partner.” A new, post-“false positives” generation of mid-level officers, with years of training in much-improved military colleges, appeared to place a much higher value on human rights, international humanitarian law, and measuring results through territorial legitimacy. While some concerns persisted, especially allegations of espionage against participants in the peace process, the overall trajectory had been positive.
Then came 2019, which has been an annus horribilis for Colombia’s Army. The high command that new President Iván Duque put into place came under immediate attack from human rights groups for their past proximity to “false positive” killings a decade earlier. The ultraconservative new defense minister made repeated statements minimizing the severity of killings of social leaders and calling for crackdowns on social protests. And then, scandals started to hit.
On May 18, the New York Times revealed that, at the beginning of the year, the Army’s new high command had taken a leap backward in time, bringing back “body counts” as a principal measure of commanders’ effectiveness. After years of seeking to measure progress by measures of security and state presence in territories from which government had long been absent, the new commanders decided to seek something simpler. Unit commanders were instead required to sign forms committing themselves to a doubling of “afectaciones”—armed-group members killed or captured—in their areas of operations. While this signaled a return to a long-discredited territorial stabilization strategy, it also raised major human rights concerns about creating incentives for “false positives.” Already, Colombian media had been gathering reports about increased abuses, and abusive behavior, at the hands of military personnel in 2019.
July saw the Army buffeted by corruption scandals, including selling permits to carry weapons and misuse of funds meant for fuel and other needs. The scandals, mostly revealed by Semana magazine, have so far led to the firing of five Army generals, one of them imprisoned, and the jailing of nine more soldiers. One of the generals fired under a cloud of corruption allegations was the Army’s number-two commander, Gen. Adelmo Fajardo. Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán, meanwhile, revealed that Gen. Fajardo allegedly arranged to have his favored staff sergeants approved for officer training, even though they were not the most qualified candidates.
Non-commissioned officers, “the base of the Army, are furious,” Duzán reported. “There is a sense that too many generals are occupied more with benefiting from the perks of power than with serving the country, and that good soldiers and good officers are being left without power in the hierarchy, defeated not by a strategic enemy, but because they don’t want to participate in the feast of corruption.”
Duzán reveals something important here. The scandals that have buffeted Colombia’s Army this year have not originated from the work of human rights defenders or reporters. In all cases, the source of the information has been outraged members of the Army. That is new. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when the Army stood accused of working with paramilitary groups or committing extrajudicial executions, the sources were almost always victims, witnesses, or prosecutorial investigators. Now, the chief source is whistleblowers from within the institution: officers and soldiers who love the Army, believe that it has made important progress, and are deeply worried about the direction it is taking under current leadership.
On the other side is the “old guard,” at times allied with powerful retired officers, who opposed peace negotiations, resisted recent reforms, and who apparently believe that the key to victory is to lift commanders from the apparent burdens of accountability. Emblematic of that attitude is a January quote, revealed by Semana, and attributed to Gen. Diego Villegas, the commander of the military task force responsible for the conflictive Catatumbo region:
The Army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over. What we have to do here is takedowns. And if we have to ally ourselves with the Pelusos [the EPL guerrillas] we will ally with them—we already talk to them—in order to fight the ELN. If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.
We must hope that this quote is false, or at least that the number of “old guard” officers who really think this way is small. We must also hope that the high command—Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez—is not inclined toward the “old guard.” If they are, and if this faction is large, then Ambassador Whitaker’s sunny portrayal of today’s Colombian military is a sad caricature.
The high command’s handling of these scandals gives us even greater reason for worry. Instead of pledging to clean house, protect whistleblowers, and demand the most honorable behavior of all officers, the Army’s counter-intelligence apparatus has been deployed on an internal campaign of polygraphs, surveillance, and interrogations to identify those who have leaked to the press. Gen. Martínez, the army chief, has denied knowledge of what Semana calls “Operación Silencio,” but the Procuraduría has unearthed evidence that his denials are false: that the General in fact ordered the witch hunt. The Army’s botched damage control effort has done harm to the institution’s credibility at a critical moment.
And this is a critical moment. The number of armed groups, and armed group members, continues to proliferate in regions of former FARC influence. Homicides increased for the first time in six years in 2018, and if they are slightly down in 2019, as a new report from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation points out, it is only because criminal groups have secured dominance in some zones, or made accords with competitors in other zones. If Colombia’s security forces were achieving important security gains, it is likely that public opinion would overlook some of these scandals. But they are not making gains. “We see a paralysis of the military forces with regard to security at the territorial level,” the Foundation’s Ariel Ávila noted, citing ongoing scandals and strategic drift under President Duque and Defense Minister Botero.
Much can be done about this, immediately. While the Duque/Uribe government will always have a conservative high command, it is possible for that high command to be simultaneously conservative, competent, and institutionally forward-looking. Such officers must be identified and promoted.
It is meanwhile imperative that whistleblowers within the armed forces be given maximum protections. They are our best source of “early warning” about the institution’s direction. Colombia’s Congress, courts, and Public Ministry must maintain their protection from retaliation as a high priority.
And finally, the U.S. government, the Colombian Army’s most important international counterpart, must do more than just sing the Army’s praises. It must keep its eyes wide open and voice concerns about backsliding, whether publicly or privately, in strong terms. The U.S. Congress must maintain conditions in foreign aid law that freeze some assistance pending progress on human rights. These are the best ways to ensure that Colombia’s armed forces can once again move toward Ambassador Whitaker’s idealistic description of them.
I’m suddenly on two writing deadlines. One for a U.S. newspaper that asked me to pitch them a column on Colombia’s latest crisis. (I barfed up 2,200 words last night and need to cut that by over a third very quickly, it’s due this morning.) One for a Colombian publication on the current status of civil-military relations. I’ve also got meetings scheduled with a scholar of Colombia’s peace process, and via Skype with colleagues in South America who work on defense issues.
As a result, I probably won’t be responding to messages until mid-afternoon. Usually, the Friday before Labor Day is quiet in Washington. Not this time.
De los 281 municipios priorizados para el postconflicto por la Fundación Paz y Reconciliación – Pares, hay un grupo de 123 donde antes operaban las FARC y que han sido copados por grupos armados ilegales y organizaciones criminales
El gobierno podría cantar victoria porque hay indicadores que han venido bajando, pero gran parte de ese bajonazo obedece a que actores criminales o ganaron la guerra (las zonas de las Farc) o pactaron entre ellos y lo que vemos ahora es una expansión silenciosa
La Policía del segundo gobierno del FMLN permitió la existencia de grupos de exterminio que persiguieron, torturaron y ejecutaron a decenas de salvadoreños en el marco de la guerra contra las pandillas
El informe temático Guatemala: un Estado capturado, ofrece a la sociedad guatemalteca una interpretación analítica de la captura y cooptación del Estado a manos de distintas expresiones de Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led a group of 23 of his Democratic Senate colleagues in calling on the Trump administration to stop restricting access to the U.S. asylum system by ending its Remain in Mexico policy
I’m mostly around, but doing interviews and on a writing deadline. (How to contact me)
I’m finishing a piece about Colombia’s military today, working on our report based on our Mexico-Guatemala border trip 2 weeks ago, and doing a lot of press, and statement-writing, about the defection of a top former FARC leader from the peace process. In the office all day.
Latin America’s wild race to democracy has failed to overcome the region’s difficult history. The wounds left unattended—inequality, injustice, corruption, violence—are powerful catalysts for discontent
Employees of the country’s main environmental agency, Ibama, said their mission had been hobbled in recent years as a result of budget cuts, a thinner presence in remote areas, attacks on enforcement personnel, as well as political interference and a weakening of environmental regulations
Celebró que en sus relaciones con Estados Unidos se dejó de hablar de Guatemala como un “tercer país seguro”, pero reclamó que no tiene detalles del convenio que el gobierno de Jimmy Morales firmó con el de Donald Trump
Tony had a proposal for the mayor: give money to the National Party campaign for his brother, who was running for re-election in Congress, and the then-candidate for president, Porfirio Lobo. In return, Tony would provide protection for Ardón and his trafficking network
El diputado del PT, Óscar González Yáñez, aseguró que si no se regula a los medios de comunicación, estos se van a convertir en un instrumento fundamental de la derecha en las elecciones federales del 2021 y del 2024
U.S. officials supplied Panama’s border security force, SENAFRONT, with the devices that capture fingerprints, photographs and iris scans to process the influx of migrants showing up at the Peñitas camp
Another late-August day with few meetings or commitments. I made huge progress writing two documents about Colombia and the border yesterday, and expect to do so again today. The only plan for today is just to keep making the cursor move from left to right.
While the federal immigration agency appeared pleased with its progress, the 60-mile development represents just over 13 percent of the 450 miles of border wall Trump has vowed to see built by the end of 2020
Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business
As the deadline neared, many Venezuelans in Ecuador rushed home to retrieve family members. Thousands more rushed east from their homes in Venezuela, eager to start a life in Ecuador that would soon be much harder to achieve
Illegal timber and drug trafficking are closely linked in northeastern Honduras, a major cocaine corridor in this region. There, criminal groups have savvily combined these two businesses to maximize their illicit profits
Univision Noticias visitó cinco albergues en Tijuana. En todos, los encargados denuncian que funcionan por el apoyo de organizaciones que hacen donaciones o realizan jornadas médicas, educativas y legales
La represión aumenta en los barrios pobres a manos de las Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales, una unidad de la Policía Nacional creada por Maduro, que acumula centenares de denuncias por supuestas ejecuciones extrajudiciales
The week before Labor Day is usually a quiet one in Washington, and I hope to spend it writing. Ideally, dividing the day between writing a piece about Colombia’s military and moving ahead a report on our Mexico-Guatemala border trip. Other than a mid-day phone meeting, I’ll be in the office doing that.
Military officials said they had deployed two C-130 cargo planes equipped with firefighting tools to the state of Rondônia and were assessing how many of the nearly 44,000 troops based in the Amazon area to mobilize
El exdirector del Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica y doctor en Sociología analiza las implicaciones de un documento militar revelado por el diario español “El País”, en que se ordena seguir una “Narrativa Marco del Conflicto Armado”
Desde el acuerdo de paz con las Farc, la violencia contra estas comunidades, lejos de reducirse, ha aumentado. Esta situación ha encendido las alarmas de las organizaciones sociales, que hablan de una crisis humanitaria sin precedentes
Decenas de africanos que huyeron de sus países duermen en tiendas de campaña en el exterior del centro de detención. Entre ellos hay niños y mujeres embarazadas, que exigen un documento que les permita seguir su camino
El problema pasa por situarse en un modo distinto ante el otro y ante la idea misma de un pacto. Hay que entender y aceptar que ninguno de los sectores en pugna obtendrá realmente lo que quiere, lo que busca, lo que necesita
My schedule is all booked up today: a weekly staff meeting, a dentist appointment, lunch with a European diplomat, a call with a former intern, coffee with a reporter, and a call with attorneys litigating some of Trump’s migration policies. I won’t be in my office or at my desk at all today.
U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, who oversees the Flores agreement, last year refused the government’s request to permit the long-term detention of families, on the grounds that it is harmful to children. She’s unlikely to allow it now
The idea, the official added, was to skirt Congress by instituting the change in the form of a regulation, while creating yet another pretext for assailing lawmakers for their failure to take some radical action of their own
El alto consejero para la estabilización y la consolidación le respondió a parlamentarios de la U, Cambio Radical, el Polo y el Partido Liberal, entre otros, acerca del estado de implementación de los acuerdos
Imposing surveillance, fear and repression, Cuba helped Venezuela revamp its armed forces and military intelligence service. Reuters reveals how two agreements, undisclosed since 2008, let Havana remake Venezuela’s security apparatus
Tres de los jueces que han conocido casos investigados por el Ministerio Público (MP) y la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) hablaron ayer sobre los riesgos que representa su trabajo y señalaron que el Organismo Judicial (OJ) no ha atendido las denuncias por amenazas
La Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad de Guatemala (Cicig), creada por las Naciones Unidas para fortalecer el débil sistema de justicia guatemalteco, echó este miércoles el cierre a sus actividades en el país centroamericano tras 12 años
El Diagnóstico resalta que el presupuesto asignado para este año, de 207.6 millones de pesos, era muy inferior a lo canalizado en años anteriores, y corresponde “al 64% del gasto previsto y monto inferior a lo ejercido en 2018 y 2017”
Mexican immigration officials have scuttled some of those plans by implementing caps on the number of people that can be returned to the country, limiting the hours when they can be sent back, and refusing to take asylum-seekers on Sundays