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.

The day ahead: April 21, 2017

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

No meetings today. Today’s big project is moving my defense oversight database from my “drafts” domain ( to No idea how long that will take. I’d also like to record a podcast about border security, but that might get pushed off to the weekend.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

April 20, 2017


Estuvimos en un conflicto y, para salir de él, la memoria debe ser lo más sincera y transparente posible. Esperamos que, como ha dicho el Ministerio de Defensa, su presencia en la CNMH no nos lleve a incumplir

Mientras las víctimas reclaman que sea la justicia ordinaria la que siga juzgando a los militares implicados, entre los jueces hay versiones encontradas

Colombia, Ecuador

Huvelle wrote that in allowing the trial, “there is ample evidence” to suggest that DynCorp and pilots that it briefed and managed “simply ignored (and sometimes mocked) the fact that plaintiffs from specific areas of Ecuador were complaining about the company’s sloppy spraying flights”

El Salvador

The vice president personally carried out activities that the Attorney General’s Office itself describes as “money laundering methods.”

Trump blames former President Obama, but he may have been more correct if he had pointed the finger at Ronald Reagan


Governors, who like presidents serve one six-year term, control state legislatures, state auditors and state prosecutors — a dominance that gives them the power of a modern potentate

Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations


The United States has little to show for more than $90 million in forest-protection aid and other assistance to Peru


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its alarm at the militarization and call to arm 500,000 civilian militias

Tens of thousands of protesters made an unsuccessful attempt to march to downtown Caracas as security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd

17-year-old boy fatally shot along with woman and National Guardsman as the opposition calls for another mass protest on Thursday

Esta es la quinta convocatoria a la calle hecha por la oposición en los últimos 15 días, en los que ha sido víctima de una escalada represiva por parte de los cuerpos de seguridad del Estado

“We wear our protest on the inside for the fear of losing our bag of food”

Citgo Petroleum, a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, was one of the biggest corporate donors to events surrounding the swearing-in ceremony

Links From the Last Month About: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America


  • A decree has placed a representative of Colombia’s Defense Ministry on the governing board of the Center for Historical Memory, a body of academics that has produced 92 reports since 2008 about what happened in the country’s conflict. Though a governmental body, the Center has had autonomy in how it chooses and carries out its investigations. This has brought strong support from conflict victims, but also strong criticism from the military. Critics, including victims’ groups, are concerned that the addition of a Defense official—who represents the military, one of the main parties to the conflict and the generator of many victims—may undermine this crucial autonomy. The Center’s longtime director, Gonzalo Sánchez, quietly protested the Defense Ministry’s addition, but later told the press that all government ministries have the right to participate in its governing board, the military has a lot of knowledge about the conflict that it should be encouraged to share, and that the Center’s autonomy won’t be affected.
  • The McClatchy news service, using information publicized by Human Rights Watch, reported that Gen. Jaime Lasprilla, a former head of Colombia’s army, has been in Washington as Colombia’s defense attache for nearly two years despite strong human rights concerns about his military record. A decade ago, when Gen. Lasprilla headed the Army’s 9th Brigade in the southern department of Huila, the unit committed a very large number of so-called “false positive” killings: murders of civilians that were falsified as combat kills to boost body counts.


  • The U.S. Southern Command’s Diálogo publication discusses, and praises, the Honduran military’s “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which sends soldiers to schools throughout the country “reinforcing a sense of right and wrong and instilling morals and leadership principles among minors.”
  • Soldiers are now protecting seven bus companies’ stations and lines in Tegucigalpa. Bus companies are frequent targets of gangs’ extortion and attacks.


  • Late last year, legislators from Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), working with heavy input from the armed forces, drafted an Internal Security Law that would make permanent the Mexican military’s “emergency” role in policing. Now, even the bill’s chief sponsor recognizes that the controversial legislation now appears unlikely to pass in the current legislative session, which ends April 30. The bill had encountered criticism from opposition parties in Congress, and especially from civil-society groups. A coalition of mostly Mexican groups (which included WOLA) put out a highly critical report (PDF) in late March citing the human rights cost that Mexico has paid since the military’s involvement in internal security intensified a decade ago. (There have been at least 3,921 confrontations between military personnel and civilians in Mexico since January 2007, when President Felipe Calderón increased the armed forces’ involvement in security.) More than 120 groups collaborated on an internet effort with a multimedia website, #SeguridadSinGuerra, to pressure the Congress to reject the law and place more emphasis on training better civilian police. Mexico’s usually docile human rights ombudsman’s office (National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH) also came out against the law.
  • The chief of Mexico’s Navy, Adm. Vidal Soberón, said that the military were only playing internal security roles, “it must be said, because in many cases police forces have been surpassed” by criminals.
  • The military responded angrily after a leading opposition politician, leftist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel López Obrador, opposed the armed forces’ involvement in policing and tied them to the 2014 Ayotzinapa massacre. The Army’s human rights director, Gen. José Carlos Beltrán, called a press conference to criticize “social actors” who present “slander and offenses,” and actually denied that the military commits human rights abuses. “Those who denigrate the labor of our armed forces denigrate Mexico,” said President Enrique Peña Nieto. López Obrador responded that he views the military as “the people in uniform,” and his critics should “calm down.”
  • During the past month, Mexican military personnel were deployed to help keep order in the states of Quintana Roo, Sonora, and Veracruz.
  • Marines allegedly killed a minor, a passenger in a civilian car that went through a roadblock, in Nuevo León not far from the U.S. border.
  • In the border city of Reynosa, a woman who had denounced that her husband died last year in Marine custody said she received death threats from a group of assailants “of military aspect” who rammed her car.


  • The opposition-leaning daily La Prensa reported on the sudden and unusual retirement of two senior generals in Nicaragua’s army, who normally serve five-year terms in top command positions. A retired general told the paper that the firings owe to the armed forces’ politicization, “ever since the moment when there stoped being a high command able to say to [President Daniel] Ortega, ‘this is illegal, this can’t be done, this goes against the Constitution.’” Security expert Elvira Cuadra said, “Due to the way and the moment [the sudden retirements] occurred, what it shows is that things aren’t going well within the military institution.”


  • During the unsuccessful late-March attempt to change Paraguay’s constitution to allow President Horacio Cartes to run for re-election, local media questioned some irregular military deployments around the capital. These included the appearance of armored personnel carriers at Asunción installations, and the posting of guards and snipers around the Congress, where the amendment was being debated. Paraguay has been very vigilant about signs of military involvement in politics since the end of the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989).


  • Faced with mounting protests, the government of President Nicolás Maduro launched “Plan Zamora Green Phase,” a “special civil-military strategic plan” to involve the military in preventing a “coup d’etat.” Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino promised the armed forces’ “unconditional loyalty” to the regime against “violent marches.” The government’s disproportionately forceful response to protests, however, has mostly been carried out by police, not soldiers.
  • Maduro also announced that the number of “Bolivarian Militias”—civilians armed with rifles to defend the regime—would expand to 500,000 (out of Venezuela’s total population of about 30 million).
  • Two investigative reports in the past month from InsightCrime (March 22 and April 28) look at drug-trafficking and other corruption in the armed forces.

The day ahead: April 20, 2017

I should be reachable in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

Yesterday morning I thought I had no meetings scheduled, but a conversation with a member of Congress got moved to yesterday afternoon, which was great but it’s is the main reason I hardly posted anything here yesterday.

Today I’m meeting a Russian diplomat who asked to talk about Colombia (yes I know but not a big deal), doing an interview with a reporter about Colombia, and planning some of next week’s work with staff: next Friday April 28 is when the federal budget needs to be passed or extended to avoid a government shutdown. It’s also the last weekday before Trump’s 100th day, so there’s going to be a lot of desire to review “what just happened.”

In the afternoon I’m doing a final edit to the introductory essay to our defense programs project, making sure the 28-category table of contents I made yesterday is correct, and adding a bunch of border security research to the database. Based on that, I’d like to record a podcast about border security tomorrow.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Fernando Llano/AP photo at The Houston Press. Caption: “A Venezuelan boy scavenges for fruit in Caracas in 2016.”

(Even more here)

April 19, 2017

Central America Regional

“I think so, perhaps. I believe it could qualify for that,” Sessions said in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “There are rules that I guess the State Department does to establish that”


As the peace deal is slowly implemented, around 6,300 former FARC guerrilla soldiers wait in 26 zonas veredales — transitional camps — across the country

“Quedé bastante satisfecho”, afirmó el Jefe del Estado, quien indicó que el 70 por ciento de las viviendas en ese sitio ya está ocupado

Las organizaciones refieren que la OACNUDH tendría un rol fundamental en esta segunda misión a través de un mandato específico

Hay alerta en 20 de los 30 municipios. Las Autodefensas Gaitanistas están en una lucha territorial contra el ELN, secuestros y asesinatos son el resultado de la pelea por el corredor del Bajo Baudó

“Esta pudo ser una concesión a los militares para que no vayan a entorpecer esta parte del cese el fuego que es tan delicada”

Aunque Arrieta plantea restricciones importantes para reanudar las aspersiones aéreas, esta ponencia es una luz verde para continuar fumigando con glifosato

“Los dos expresidentes eran los invitados de un miembro de Mar-a-Lago este fin de semana, y hubo una breve conversación y un apretón de manos (con Trump)”

Central America Regional, El Salvador

President Trump and two of his Cabinet members offered warnings Tuesday about the dangers posed by MS-13, a gang based in El Salvador that has offshoots in cities across the United States


La Ley de Seguridad Interior no se aprobará este periodo ordinario de sesiones, que culmina el domingo 30

“There is no reliable estimate of the cost of construction of the full border wall, but extrapolated estimates place the construction cost of the wall and associated technology and infrastructure at nearly $70 billion”

The report said the border wall could cost nearly $70 billion to build and $150 million a year to maintain

Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama

A group of 21 units from the Panamanian, Costa Rican, and Guatemalan militaries participated from March 6th to 30th in a Search and Rescue (SAR) course sponsored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection


His bid to change the constitution and seek a second term triggered deadly riots last month


“Francisco Alejandro spent three days handcuffed to a pipe,” lawyer Joel Garcia told Reuters, adding that he was made to stand for three days

Marchers around the country will demand the government present a timeline for delayed elections, halt a security crackdown on protests, and respect the autonomy of the opposition-led legislature

It is not a question of solving imperfections in Venezuela, it is a question of recovering democracy

Those responsible for the criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity, for the undermining of democratic institutions and practices, and for gross violations of human rights, will be held individually accountable

Brazil, Venezuela

Latin American governments need to apply strong pressure on the Maduro administration to address severe shortages of medicine and food in Venezuela that are causing Venezuelans to leave

Western Hemisphere Regional

Incarceration rates have increased for drug offenses in the countries studied, even as a widespread regional debate takes place on the need to explore alternative drug policies

In June, the State Department, along with Treasury, Commerce and DHS and our co-host Mexico, will host a conference focused on the economic and security needs of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala

The day ahead: April 19, 2017

I should be reachable in the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I got a lot done yesterday: an article, a podcast, some interviews, and a planning meeting. Today, for some reason, I have no meetings scheduled, so I’ll be working at home in the morning, as my daughter’s school is closed this week.

There are a lot of “inbox” items and small commitments I’m behind on. In the afternoon, I’ll be in the office putting our defense programs project to bed. I also hope to post some content here throughout the day, and add a bit of research to our database.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

EFE / Miguel Gutiérrez photo at SinEmbargo (Mexico). Caption: “CARACAS (VENEZUELA), 17/04/2017 – El presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, habla junto a miembros de la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana (FANB) hoy, lunes 17 de abril de 2017, en la conmemoración del séptimo aniversario de la milicia en Caracas (Venezuela). Las Fuerzas Armadas de Venezuela ratificaron hoy su apoyo incondicional al presidente, Nicolás Maduro, ante lo que consideran una ‘coyuntura crucial’ debido a los ‘actos de violencia’ durante las protestas opositoras, parte de una ‘agenda criminal’ que amenaza la ‘paz y estabilidad’ del país.”

(Even more here)

April 18, 2017

Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela

These regional leaders are part of a historic shift in Latin America toward more accountability and transparency in business, politics and the rule of law


Townspeople, police and the military are on high alert as other criminal groups attempt to fill the power vacuum

Pastrana estuvo en el restaurante del club con un grupo comiendo este viernes y en uno de los pasillos saludó al presidente Trump

De las 27 afirmaciones que tiene la carta sólo tres son ciertas

La inclusión del Ministerio de Defensa en el Consejo Directivo del Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica causó rechazo entre las organizaciones de víctimas de la sociedad civil

Colombia, Mexico

To many drug policy experts familiar with this basic reality of the drug market, the conclusion is obvious: To kill the profitability of the drug trade, legalize the drugs


Rodríguez, 73, reported on crime and the police on Colectivo Pericú, a blog that covers current events in the northern Mexican state of Baja California Sur

Now, with Trump’s angry talk and the Mexican resentment it stirs, the best hope for the persistence of this improved relationship is inertia

While the flow of migrants has slowed, drug smuggling remains constant. The signs are everywhere

Guatemala, Mexico

Las autoridades de Guatemala investigan los nexos locales que pudiera tener el capturado exgobernador del estado mexicano de Veracruz, Javier Duarte, detenido en este país centroamericano

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Between November 2016 and March, Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, received 5,421 asylum applications, up from 2,148 over the same period in 2015 and 2016


El presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro recibió este lunes la promesa de “lealtad incondicional” de la Fuerza Armada, a la que la oposición acusa de ser la única que sostiene al chavismo en el poder

El presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, anunció hoy que aprobó un plan para expandir a 500.000 los miembros de la Milicia Bolivariana, armados con fusiles para que se desplieguen en todas las zonas

In the short term, the colectivos and the military itself would be the criminal elements most impacted by a move by parts of the military to force Maduro’s hand

One can assume that Venezuela would be in a very different place if neither of these ham-fisted pseudo-interventionist moments had happened

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