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.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

March 21, 2017


Um levantamento do Instituto de Segurança Pública (ISP) revelou que o número de fuzis apreendidos em 2016 bateu recorde: 371. Em 2007, quando a contagem começou, policiais recolheram 214

Chile, Venezuela

“(President Trump) presented to me his worries about the situation in Venezuela,” Bachelet told reporters


En el desarme de las Farc no se exigirá conocer el número serial de las armas, lo que significa que nunca se podría conocer información de dónde y cómo llegaron esas armas a Colombia

Las fuentes coinciden en que se están sembrando más hectáreas. Pero esto no necesariamente implica que haya más producto, y en todo caso las cifras disponibles son todas muy dudosas. Tampoco hay una “causa” sino varios factores

El Baudó chocoano cuenta con condiciones geográficas, históricas y de seguridad que favorecen las disputas entre grupos armados por dinero y poder

En entrevista con EL TIEMPO, McCaffrey responsabiliza a las Farc, critica al Gobierno por suspender la fumigación y vaticina un futuro peligroso para ambos países


For years, uniformed U.N. troops provided the only real security in Haiti, but their tenure has been rocky and these days Haiti’s police do most of the heavy lifting

The organization says it is terribly concerned about the cholera epidemic in Haiti and wishes to eliminate it. But it has not figured out when and how this is going to happen, and with what money


Authorities have tried to obtain the original footage but were told it was lost or destroyed

Las causas de la inseguridad en Sinaloa, Guerrero y el Estado de México fueron cuestionadas por políticos e investigadores en seguridad. Los gobiernos estatales no han puesto atención suficiente

Colombia, Mexico

Funcionarios colombianos consultados por Proceso esperan, desde luego, más presiones de Estados Unidos para volver a asperjar los cultivos de hoja de coca con glifosato

Western Hemisphere Regional

Increasingly, Kiefer felt uncomfortable at work: angry at the system that employed him, sad for the people being “processed,” and afraid that he would be caught making off with government property. But he kept sneaking out what he could

The day ahead: March 21, 2017

Today I’ll be very hard to contact. I may not be in my office at all. Text me if it’s urgent. (How to contact me)

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission will be holding hearings this morning about Colombia and about U.S. migration and border-security policy. Simultaneously. So I’ll be at OAS headquarters from early morning until lunchtime.

Then I have a lunch meeting and two later-afternoon meetings with human rights defenders working in Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. And somewhere in there I must finish preparing oral testimony for a hearing of the Tom Lantos Congressional Human Rights Commission on the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia. This hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 9:30, but still not 100% confirmed to happen, as it’s a chaotically busy week on Capitol Hill.

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



  • Colombia’s Congress is nearing approval of a transitional justice system to try war crimes committed during the long conflict with the FARC, as envisioned in the peace accords. Retired Colombian generals are pushing hard to guarantee that this law waters down the definition of “command responsibility” for war crimes They want language that allows former commanders to claim that they did not have effective control over troops who committed atrocities. Although this low standard might run afoul of the International Criminal Court, the bill that passed the Colombian Senate on March 13 included it.
  • As part of Colombia’s post-conflict transition, the Nudo de Paramillo Joint Task Force, a 4,500-person unit in northwestern Colombia, is to become a “Stabilization and Consolidation Command” focusing more on economic development projects, like building roads, than on combat.


  • President Rafael Correa abruptly fired Army Chief Gen. Luis Castro, after the general made public comments implying that soldiers were impeded from controlling the “chain of custody” of ballots cast in the February 19 first-round presidential election. (The military plays a leading role in election logistics in Ecuador.) Gen. Castro’s comments cast doubt on the integrity of voting, which yielded an 11 percentage-point margin—but not a majority—to Correa’s former vice president and political ally, Lenín Moreno.
  • Gen. Castro was the fourth top-ranked military leader whom Correa has fired in the past year amid deteriorating civil-military relations.


  • While on a trip to the United States, Mexico’s leftist frontrunner for the 2018 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, repeated a charge—made by many of the victims’ families—that Mexico’s Army was involved in the 2014 Ayotzinapa massacre of 43 student teachers in Iguala, Guerrero. This earned him attacks from Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, who is one of the most likely choices to oppose López Abrader as the ruling PRI party’s 2018 candidate.
  • President Enrique Peña Nieto continued to direct highest praise at the armed forces, calling them “the institution of institutions” whose members devote their “body and soul.”
  • Human rights lawyer Juan Méndez, who as UN special rapporteur on torture had some tense exchanges with Mexican officials in 2015, returned to the country in mid-March. While there, he called on Mexico to reduce the armed forces’ participation in public security functions.
  • “We’re not going to pull out” of crimefighting in the streets, Mexican Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos said. “It’s the people who don’t want us to go, and it is an order from the President of the Republic.”
  • Indeed, when asked, “Whom would you prefer to have guarding the streets, the Police or the Army?” Mexican respondents to a Parametría poll went with 60 percent Army, 20 percent “neither,” and 18 percent Police. That 60 percent for the Army is down from 66 percent in 2008.
  • Gen. Cienfuegos is actively supporting a draft Internal Security Law that will make permanent the Mexican armed forces’ internal crimefighting role. A movement of NGOs calling itself #SeguridadSinGuerra (“Security Without War”) has formed to oppose this fundamental policy change.
  • In Culiacán, the capital of Mexico’s violence-riven state of Sinaloa, state and municipal police held a protest march to demand the federal military police force’s removal from the state. They criticized the soldiers for not acting until they receive explicit orders, and for “hindering” local police.
  • A contributor to Small Wars Journal believes that Mexico’s Marines, which play a large internal crime-fighting role, are “a modern military force postured to defeat hybrid threats.”

Eight things that stood out to me in the UN High Commissioner’s Human Rights Report On Colombia

Pie chart of 127 murders

This frame from the report’s accompanying PowerPoint presentation [PDF] breaks down 127 murders of social leaders, human rights defenders, and activists during 2016.

Last Thursday the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) field office in Colombia released its annual report on human rights in the country, covering 2016. This agency, headed by U.S. expert Todd Howland, maintains 14 field offices around the country, closely monitors the situation, and issues recommendations to the government.

The new 18-page report is out in English and Spanish. The Office has also shared video of the March 16 launch and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation [PDF]. Upon reading the report, here are eight points that stood out to me.

One Human Rights Defender or Social Activist Was Murdered Every Three Days Last Year:

The situation of male and female human rights defenders continued to cause concern in 2016. Until 31 December, OHCHR observed 389 aggressions of the following types: 59 killings ; 44 attacks; 210 threats (69 collective); 72 infringements of the rights to privacy and property (including photographing, surveillance, computer theft); three enforced disappearances; and one case of sexual violence. The 59 victims killed included four women, six indigenous leaders, three LGBTI leaders, three trade union leaders, one Afro-Colombian leader and two youth leaders. Although there were more attacks and assassinations of members of trade unions, and social and political movements, these statistics only include aggressions against leaders.

(In the presentation accompanying this report [PDF], with updated data, OHCHR found that 60 social leaders were killed in 2016, as were 64 activists who did not play leadership roles, plus 3 cases still being verified, for a total of 127 murders. More than sixty percent of these killings took place in zones with a history of FARC presence.)

The FARC peace accord, and subsequent legislation, define “command responsibility” for war crimes in a way that doesn’t meet international standards:

OHCHR is concerned about several aspects of a constitutional reform bill applicable to State agents, presented under the fast-track procedure. The bill restricts and distorts the legal framework which judges must apply to alleged human rights violations committed by members of the military or police and does not meet international standards on superior and command responsibility.

In the peace agreement, the definition of “effective control” relating to the criminal responsibility of civilian or military superiors is partial and not in accordance with international standards. Effective control, as well as the scope of amnesties, should be interpreted in line with international standards and jurisprudence in order to ensure victims’ rights to justice and non-repetition. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court could publicly offer clarity about applicable superior responsibility norms.

Slow Progress in Holding the Military Accountable for Extrajudicial Killings Does Not Extend to the Highest-Ranking Commanders:

According to the Attorney General´s Office, in the context of 2,316 open investigations until December 31, 133 members of the military and civilians were convicted between January and September.… Nevertheless, taking into account patterns in planning, commission and cover-up of “false-positive” killings, the responsibility cannot be limited to the material perpetrators. Only one of the 14 army generals currently investigated for these acts was called to trial.… In November, five senior officers implicated in the “false positive” extrajudicial executions committed by soldiers under their command, and who had received various benefits for these “results”, were promoted to brigadier general and major general.

The Colombian Government Erred Badly in Not Preparing the FARC Disarmament Zones in a Timely Way:

At the end of 2016, the temporary pre-grouping zones for FARC-EP members to undergo disarmament and reintegration had not been readied. This generated mistrust and vulnerability among FARC-EP members and provided an incentive for desertion or joining criminal groups. Clearly defined schedules, actions and responsibilities for successful reintegration with public participation are required.

75 Indigenous People Died of Malnutrition in the Corruption-Plagued Department of La Guajira, in Northeastern Colombia:

OHCHR continued to observe difficulties in implementing economic, social and cultural rights, for example in La Guajira, where nutritional problems primarily affect indigenous Wayúu children. Between January and November, the National Health Institute reported 352 cases of children with low birth weight and 75 deaths from malnutrition, 16 per cent of them under five years, in the department.

The humanitarian situation in La Guajira is closely tied to the department’s chronic corruption, as a new documentary by journalist Gonzalo Guillén illustrates.

The FARC has been too slow in releasing child combatants within its ranks:

The separation of children from the FARC-EP, agreed by the parties, cannot be postponed. On 10 February, the FARC-EP publically [sic.] confirmed they would end recruitment of children under eighteen. During the year, the FARC-EP only separated 13 children officially from their ranks. The integrated attention and reparation programme for children under 18 years remains under construction. OHCHR is concerned about allegations concerning the separation of children from FARC-EP ranks without official process.

The Military’s Internal-Security Role Is Growing, Not Shrinking, in the Post-Accord Context:

In the context of the peace process, the High Commissioner observes with concern the intervention of the military in citizen security tasks ranging from managing public protests to combatting organised crime. OHCHR reiterates that the military is not responsible for citizen security.… In exceptional situations and under established procedures, the national police may require military assistance which, in order to respect life and integrity, should be conducted under the principle of police primacy with rigorous independent civilian oversight.… OHCHR is also concerned about proposals by some local authorities to create vice-mayors for security, exercised by active military members on commission.… OHCHR laments that… the Ministry of Defence decided at the end of 2016 not to reassign financial resources from the military to the national police.

Colombia’s Forced Displacement Crisis Isn’t Over:

Despite the peace process, forced displacement continued. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 47 emergencies stemming from new massive forced displacements, confinements and/or mobility restrictions occurred in 2016. These were concentrated in zones of difficult access in Córdoba, Antioquia, Choco, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, Arauca and Norte de Santander. They primarily affected Wounnan, Emberá and Emberá Dovida indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino communities. Approximately 13,864 people were affected by mass displacement.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

March 20, 2017


¡Pacifista!, Aitor Saez, Why Has Cocaine Production Increased Since the Peace Agreement in Colombia? (OpenDemocracy (UK), March 20, 2017).

¡PACIFISTA! visit the depths of the biggest coca-growing region in Colombia

Maria Clara Calle, Coca: Un Negocio Familiar Que Marca a la Mujer (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), March 20, 2017).

Plantaciones extensivas de esta mata, la guerra y la violencia sexual han pasado por Putumayo con más que sangre para las organizaciones femeninas

Farc Entregaran 14.000 Armas, Dice el Gobierno (Agence France Presse, El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), March 20, 2017).

En cumplimiento del acuerdo de paz, los cerca de 7.000 miembros de las Farc se encuentran concentrados desde hace casi un mes en 26 puntos del país

Asesinatos de Lideres Sociales: Difieren las Cifras, Coinciden los Contextos (Verdad Abierta (Colombia), March 20, 2017).

A pesar del contraste de cifras y de conceptualización, los tres informes presentan similitudes y hacen advertencias para que el gobierno nacional frene esa ola de violencia

Alfredo Molano Jimeno, Algunos Congresistas Actuaron en Funcion de Sus Intereses: Todd Howland (El Espectador (Colombia), March 20, 2017).

Lo que sacó adelante ese esfuerzo fue el interés por los derechos de las víctimas y ahora los congresistas hicieron como si nada hubiera ocurrido en Cuba

Alfonso Chardy, He Was Behind Moving Cocaine Under Water on a Drug Sub. The Judge Gave Him 5 Years (The Miami Herald, March 20, 2017).

The semi-submersible voyage linked to Penagos ended on March 29, 2012, when a U.S. government patrol plane spotted the vessel

Editorial: La Promesa de la Justicia (El Espectador (Colombia), March 20, 2017).

Fue tan frustrante ver a los congresistas, impulsados por múltiples intereses externos, introducir modificaciones a lo pactado en La Habana. Nos preocupan en especial tres cambios

Costa Rica

Santiago Navarro F., Renata Bessi, Southern Command in Costa Rica: Us Occupation Disguised as Humanitarian Aid (Truthout, March 20, 2017).

The governments of the US and Costa Rica do not make plain the ways in which they’re targeting Talamanca for transnational economic and military objectives


Stephen Gibbs, ‘From Now on You Have No Name’: Life in a Cuban Jail (The Guardian (Uk), March 20, 2017).

A brutal high-security prison was the last place Stephen Purvis expected to end up when he moved to Havana


Jonathan Watts, Amazon Land Battle Pits Indigenous Villagers Against Might of Ecuador State (The Guardian (Uk), March 20, 2017).

Only a bridge separates the Shuar village of El Tink from threat of military and mining interests in high-profile dispute resulting in death and displacement


Francisco Goldman, The Story Behind the Fire That Killed Forty Teen-Age Girls in a Guatemalan Children’s Home (The New Yorker, March 20, 2017).

In the wake of the fire, the revelation that the Secretariat for Social Welfare had failed to respond to these orders led to widespread criticism of the department, and of Guatemala’s President


Fabio Lobo Cayo en la Trampa de los Cachiros y la Dea (El Heraldo (Honduras), March 20, 2017).

Un informe de la Fiscalía de Nueva York cuenta todos los pormenores de la operación para la captura de Lobo en Haití


Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Operativo Chihuahua: Castigo a Militares… Hasta Cierto Punto (Proceso (Mexico), March 20, 2017).

Si bien Juárez no participó directamente en los hechos, sí lo hicieron tropas bajo su mando y eso bastó para condenarlo

Pedro MatÍas, Plantios de Amapola Estan en Guerrero, No en Oaxaca: Triquis; Se Deslindan de Ataque a Aeronave Militar (Proceso (Mexico), March 20, 2017).

El Movimiento Unificador de Lucha Triqui (MULT) aseguró que la zona donde la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena) detectó plantíos de amapola no pertenece a Oaxaca, sino al estado de Guerrero

Melissa Galvan, Diez Carteles se Pelean Guerrero Con Mas Brutalidad y Violencia, Mientras la Pobreza se Acentua (SinEmbargo (Mexico), March 20, 2017).

la disputa entre el Cártel de Sinaloa, el Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), los Beltrán Leyva, Los Caballeros Templarios, La Familia Michoacana y al menos cinco organizaciones locales convierte a la entidad en la más violenta

Asesinado a Balazos un Periodista Mexicano en Veracruz (El Pais (Spain), March 20, 2017).

Antes de dirigir el portal El Político, Monlui había sido jefe de prensa de la Unión Nacional de Productores de Caña de Azúcar, un gremio golpeado por el crimen en los últimos años

Ron Nixon, Trump Seeks Proposals for ‘Physically Imposing’ Wall With Mexico (The New York Times, March 20, 2017).

Despite the desire to make the wall imposing, Homeland Security officials also want to ensure that the structure is not too hard on the eyes, at least from the American side

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Ian Gordon, Inside Trump’s Border Crackdown on Women and Kids (Mother Jones, March 20, 2017).

Immigration advocates caution that Trump’s border enforcement ramp-up—like earlier attempts by the Obama administration to stem the flow of Central American migrants—could be particularly devastating for thousands of women and children


Elízabeth Romero, Denuncian Restricciones a la Libre Expresion en Nicaragua (La Prensa (Nicaragua), March 20, 2017).

El Relator sobre Libertad de Expresión manifestó solidaridad con los periodistas de Nicaragua que laboran pese a acciones de represalias y bloqueo a información


Alfredo Meza, Un Subsuelo Lleno de Osamentas en Venezuela (El Pais (Spain), March 20, 2017).

Las autoridades descubren una fosa común con 14 cuerpos en los terrenos de la Penitenciaría General de Venezuela, una peligrosa cárcel en el centro del país

The day ahead: March 20, 2017

Today I’ll be pretty hard to contact: my only window when I’m not in meetings is between about 12 and 3, and I need to write. (How to contact me)

I’ve got a staff meeting in the morning, a press interview in the afternoon, and I have to clear out of the office a bit early to attend a reception for my 12-year-old daughter who won the District of Columbia Spelling bee a week ago. Then it’s back to the office, where WOLA is hosting a reception for all of the Latin American human rights defenders who are in town for the ongoing hearings of the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

When not doing that, I’m within striking distance of finishing edits to all 109 U.S. military aid program descriptions that we’ve identified for an upcoming report on the Defense Department’s ascendant role in foreign assistance. This has been a slog, a bit like writing an encyclopedia. Maybe this will be the day we get through it.

The Week Ahead

It’s going to be another busy one.

Lots of colleagues from all over the region are in town for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission hearings. I look forward to attending the Colombia hearings, plus one on U.S. border security, on Tuesday, and I’ll be at four or five other related get-togethers and conversations with visitors. (Some of them are public events—there are many happening this week.)

I’m scheduled to speak at one: the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is going to hold a hearing about human rights defenders in Colombia on Thursday morning. They’re still looking for a space on Capitol Hill to hold it, I’ll post that when I know it. I need to have draft oral testimony done by Wednesday, and longer written testimony a day later.

Meanwhile our publication on U.S. military aid programs is in the home stretch: I’ve got 17 more program descriptions to edit (out of 109), an introduction to write, then we go to layout. That resource is online but unadvertised at a temporary website, even as we build it. If this were a less busy week, we’d be able to finalize this and get it ready to launch. But I’m not sure this will get the hours it needs.

With so many people in town, this is a good week to re-boot the WOLA Podcast, whose “back-end” I managed to rebuild last week. Time allowing, I also hope to start a more low-key podcast on this blog.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Another week with more events than any sane person could attend. March is a busy month—it’s not always like this.

Monday, March 20

  • 8:30–1:15 at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission: Hearings on Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, and Intersex People in the Americas.
  • 8:45–10:30 at the Inter-American Dialogue: The State of Skills Development in Latin America (RSVP required)
  • 2:00–4:00 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Implementing Colombia’s Peace Accord (RSVP required)
  • 3:30–5:30 at Open Society Foundations: Film Screening and Q&A—Benedicto (RSVP required).
  • 5:30–7:00 at WOLA: IACHR Reception: Honoring Latin American Human Rights Defenders (RSVP requested)

Tuesday, March 21

Wednesday, March 22

Thursday, March 23

  • 9:30–11:00, place TBA on Capitol Hill: Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on Colombia.
  • 6:00–9:00PM at Busboys and Poets, hosted by Central American Resource Center (CARECEN): Special Advance Screening of FINDING OSCAR (RSVP required).

Friday, March 24

  • 10:00–11:30 at the Brookings Institution: More skills for work and life in Latin America (RSVP required)
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