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.



Get a weekly update in your email

There’s no National Security Emergency at the Border to Justify an Authoritarian Power Grab

Hello from an airplane to San Diego. I cranked this overview out this morning, in advance of president Trump’s prime-time address about the border tonight.

It’s densely packed with facts about the low threat levels for terrorism, gangs, “spillover” violence, drugs, and migration at the border. Nothing justifying an end-run around Congress via a dictatorial “state of emergency” declaration.

Read it here.

The day ahead: January 8, 2019

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

I’m flying to San Diego in the afternoon, and will spend the rest of the week there and in Tijuana. Before then, I’ve got two meetings, and need to finish preparing a response to tonight’s presidential announcement about the border wall.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

January 7, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

It demanded $5.7 billion “for construction of a steel barrier for the Southwest border” but also proposed “an additional $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs” and unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the border

The 1976 National Emergencies Act grants a president powers to take unilateral acts in times of crisis. But it also outlines congressional checks and with Democrats controlling the House, an attempt to make such a move would be fiercely contested

As the enclosed presentation makes clear, current funding levels, resources, and authorities are woefully inadequate to meet the scope of the problem

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice that airspace in the McAllen, Tex., vicinity would be restricted on Thursday due to a “VIP movement.”

In the last half decade, while immigration at the U.S. border has dropped significantly compared with earlier years, the profile of migrants has changed in ways that the U.S. immigration system has never been designed to address

What started out as a memory trick for an undisciplined candidate has become the central priority of the Trump presidency, even as some immigration hard-liners do not view it as a top goal

This time, they face a bona fide emergency on the border, and they’re struggling to make the case there’s truly a problem

The orchestra joke hints at the precarious moral situation faced by the 19,000 agents of the Border Patrol, more than half of whom are Latino

“I had heard rumors, but I was not consulted,” said Tonatiuh Guillén, head of Mexico’s national immigration authority, told the Guardian


Oficiais das Forças Armadas consultados reagiram com surpresa à declaração do presidente. Eles avaliam que Bolsonaro falou em tom de especulação


A militant environmental group claimed the attack on its website. Two years ago the group — identifying themselves as “Individualists Tending to the Wild” — said they were behind a parcel bomb attack


El reto de la puesta en marcha de los PDET es muy grande porque ahora de lo que se trata es ver qué podemos hacer de eso que salió en el territorio y poder decir cómo se puede financiar

Los asesinatos se han concentrado en Antioquia, Cauca, Caquetá, Nariño y Norte de Santander. Se hace necesario el incremento de la presencia del Estado

“Suspicion was aroused at the United States Embassy when packages were x-rayed, revealing cocaine within gutted out punching bags”

Colombia, Venezuela

La intención que tiene Colombia es que Venezuela responda, de manera oficial, si en su territorio están integrantes del Comando Central, Coce, del Eln y otros integrantes de la organización


El asesinato de la líder de las mujeres afrodescendientes víctimas de desplazamiento en la zona rural de Santa Marta y suplente de la Mesa de Víctimas de Santa Marta, se suma a los crímenes de otros cinco líderes sociales en los primeros seis días del 2019

A finales de año se armó una discusión por cuenta de la llegada de dos bombarderos de Moscú a Venezuela. Pero esa jugada militar nada tuvo que ver con la tensión entre Colombia y su vecino, sino entre Rusia y Estados Unidos


Dr. Smith wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some diplomats might have heard crickets, but said that had no bearing on the real damage they’ve suffered


Colombian national Yilen Osorio was detained by Guatemalan immigration officials upon arrival at the airport Saturday afternoon. The move comes despite a court ruling that Guatemala must grant visas and entry

El gobierno de Jimmy Morales y sus aliados continúan con el golpe de Estado en cámara lenta que puede hacer que todo explote, pronto


Se trata de la Ley Orgánica de la Guardia Nacional, de la Ley de Uso Legítimo de la Fuerza, y la Ley General de Registro de Detenciones

Tijuana officials cited sanitary reasons for closing the shelter, a two-story warehouse in a zone known for crime and prostitution near the border

After traveling for weeks, often on foot, Central Americans are settling in and waiting for the right moment to reach their ultimate goal: the United States

In Reynosa and elsewhere, the delays caused by the policy are prompting many migrants to weigh the costs and dangers of a faster option: hiring a smuggler, at an increasingly costly rate

Asylum-seekers used to be able to simply walk across the border and make their claim for protection—a right enshrined in US and international law. That is no longer the case


El sitio web de la Policía Orteguista (PO) informó que el 30 de diciembre finalizó la graduación de 45 oficiales en tácticas militares. Las imágenes oficiales muestran a los policías sosteniendo lanzacohetes antitanques RPG-7 y fusiles Dragunov


No reconocen la legitimidad del nuevo periodo presidencial del régimen de Nicolás Maduro, que se iniciará el 10 de enero de 2019

Latin American governments should adopt unilateral sanctions to punish the kleptocrats whose thievery, incompetence and brutality have impoverished an oil-rich country

Mr Zerpa called the Supreme Court “an appendage of the executive branch”, saying the president would tell justices how to rule on certain cases

A space for fruitful negotiation must be opened by the internal mobilization of a unified opposition, in tandem with international pressure

Varios diputados opositores denunciaron hoy que dentro de la sede del Parlamento venezolano fue hallado un supuesto artefacto explosivo que ya fue retirado sin ocasionar daños

The day ahead: January 7, 2019

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

This is my only full day in Washington this work week; I’m flying to San Diego tomorrow and will spend the rest of the week there and in Tijuana, a trip we’re throwing together with little advance planning.

I’ve got a weekly staff meeting in the morning, and need to spend a few hours in the afternoon preparing for my trip. There is also some writing to do for WOLA’s annual beginning-of-year planning process. And I’ll be leaving on the early side to go home and pack. But I’ll be mostly reachable, especially after noon.

The week ahead

I’m flying to San Diego tomorrow afternoon. I plan to spend a few days there and in Tijuana learning about the current state of the Central American migrant crisis. I’d wanted to go in December, when the city was struggling to accommodate the caravan, but I had two already-planned visits to Colombia and one to Cuba. My posting to this site will be sporadic this week, but I look forward to writing updates when time allows, and when I return over the weekend.

What would happen if Trump declares a national emergency?

From today’s Guardian (UK).

I’ve edited this post to reflect that I got it wrong and we’re screwed: a joint resolution requires the President’s signature, or for Congress to override his veto, which is unlikely. This is the result of a 1983 Supreme Court decision. My updates are indicated with italics and strikethroughs.

President Trump keeps hinting that, perhaps within the next few days, he may declare a “state of emergency” at the border and order U.S. military personnel to build a wall. This would allow him to build a wall despite the deadlocked debate currently shutting down the U.S. government. He could call it an “emergency” and go against the intent of Congress, spending money—apparently from Defense Department military construction or operations and maintenance funds—that was not appropriated for wall-building.

Such a move would break longstanding norms about the use of presidential power without checks and balances in our democracy. It would also violate longstanding norms about the use of the U.S. military on U.S. soil. And according to Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, an emergency declaration would not only “be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime.”

But what would happen if Trump did it anyway? The National Emergencies Act of 1976 (Chapter 34 of Title 50 of the U.S. Code) is pretty clear about what comes next.

  • Congress can vote to strike down a national emergency declaration by passing a joint resolution (a bill that doesn’t require requires the president’s signature). In fact, whether Congress wants to do so or not, the law requires it to meet, within six months of an emergency declaration, to consider whether to vote on a joint resolution.
  • The House of Representatives, with its big new Democratic Party majority, would be virtually certain to approve a joint resolution to shut down Trump’s emergency declaration. After such a resolution gets introduced, the House technically has 15 days to get it out of committee and 3 more days to debate and vote on the floor. But Speaker Pelosi’s House would probably approve a joint resolution rejecting a state of emergency before the ink even dried on the president’s proclamation.
  • The joint resolution would then go to the Senate. The National Emergencies Act would then give the Senate fifteen days to get it through committee, and three days for the full chamber to debate and vote on it. (The Senate could also hold a vote not to consider the resolution—but that amounts to a vote on the resolution.)
  • It’s not clear what would happen in the Senate. Though president Trump’s Republican Party holds a 53-to-47 seat majority, the Senate is not guaranteed to uphold a “national emergency” declaration for military wall-building. The handful of moderate Republicans, some of them Trump critics, would be uncomfortable with the process and unenthusiastic about spending billions on a border wall. Even some conservative Republicans would be uncomfortable with using the National Emergencies Act to circumvent Congress’s power to appropriate money. Some would also be troubled about using the military for such a long-term domestic mission.
  • We would probably see days of tense, high-stakes political theater, but there is some likelihood (30 to 70 percent?) that the Senate would also approve a joint resolution striking down Trump’s emergency declaration. Unfortunately, Trump would then be able to veto the resolution. Overriding that veto would require the votes of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, which is unlikely. The national emergency would stand.
  • But wWhat if the Senate disagrees with the House? The National Emergencies Act foresees this. “In the case of any disagreement between the two Houses of Congress,” the law explains, both houses must name representatives to a conference committee, which would then have six days to file a report that the House and Senate would have to vote on within another six days. In other words, the two houses are required to compromise, then vote on the compromise agreement.
  • This is where things get vague. What if the two houses are still deadlocked? “In the event the conferees are unable to agree within forty-eight hours, they shall report back to their respective Houses in disagreement,” the law reads.

What happens then? I don’t know—you’d better ask a constitutional lawyer. Because if the situation reaches that point, the United States would find itself in one of the worst constitutional crises in its history.

Response to the White House’s letter to Congress on the border

As the government shutdown drags on, the White House sent a mass mailing to Congress today making its case for a border wall and a crackdown on asylum seekers.

A letter and a slideshow PDF present a lot of data and statistics. But nearly all of them tell only part of the story, leaving out important context.

I quickly threw together this annotated version of the White House’s main slides, and shared it as widely as possible. This was a rush job—such is “rapid response”—but I think it came out OK.

Here it is as a PDF, and here are the individual images:

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Eraldo Peres/AP Photo at Al Jazeera. Caption: “An indigenous man lies on top of a Brazilian flag representing the natives killed in the struggle for their lands, next to a large red flag reading ‘Indigenous Genocide, Demarcation now!'”

(Even more here)

January 4, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The deployment and fence construction along the California and Arizona borders would be paid for by the Pentagon, from the Department of Defense’s discretionary funding

The administration has so far announced eight projects to build new fence or replace existing barriers. Three of the projects have been completed; two are underway

There’s really no way to know whether the union represents its members or not. It’s accepted by the public that Judd, Del Cueto, and Garza speak for the officers on the ground. And those men support Trump

Top congressional leaders plan to meet with Trump at the White House Friday, in a repeat of a meeting they had on Wednesday. But so far there are no signs of a breakthrough or any movement

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) say that 22,000 minors “illegally crossed the border” in December. Nearly 25 percent of those were unaccompaniedThe fighting took place on Monday in the eastern side of the city, not far from the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge

Two years of Donald Trump’s strange, haphazard foreign policy has had a devastating impact on foreign relations in the region and has opened the door to transnational organized crime


Local indigenous activists fear even more violence due to the president’s history of anti-indigenous rhetoric and alliance with Brazil’s powerful farming lobby

The move echoes similar crackdowns against NGOs seen in Hungary and Russia

Brazil “needs its own Guantanamo” to lock up criminals, Rio de Janeiro’s state governor Wilson Witzel, an ally of new far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, said

“Depending on what happens in the world, who knows if we would not need to discuss that question in the future”


El uso del glifosato, como parte de la política antidroga que el Gobierno pondrá en marcha, es uno de los puntos pendientes que podrían retomarse en las conversaciones entre Estados Unidos y Colombia

Colombia, Venezuela

Holmes Trujillo leyó desde la Cancillería su declaración a través de un video, poco después de que el canciller venezolano, Jorge Arreaza, acusó a Colombia de “jugar a la guerra” con Venezuela

The report by the Fundación Redes (Fundaredes) estimates that between 60 and 70 percent of members in certain Colombian gangs, such as Los Rastrojos, are Venezuelans aged between 16 and 25


Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said it sent a diplomatic note to the United States Embassy about two episodes, on Jan. 1 and Nov. 25

El presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador justificó hoy la convocatoria al reclutamiento para integrar la Guardia Nacional cuando aun no existe reforma constitucional ni ley en la que se funde

Jesús Vicente Zambada Niebla, El Vicentillo, declaró bajó juramento que su padre, Ismael El Mayo Zambada García, tenía “en el bolsillo” a Humberto Eduardo Antimo Miranda, oficial mayor de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena) en el sexenio de Felipe Calderón


In their memo, Ramsey and Smilde offer a series of concrete policy recommendations for the U.S. government

Geraldine Chacón, a 24-year-old lawyer from Caracas, went four months without seeing the sun while a prisoner in the Helicoide, the feared hillside prison complex administered by Venezuela’s secret police

The day ahead: January 4, 2019

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

I bought a plane ticket yesterday, and will be traveling to San Diego and Tijuana from Tuesday afternoon to Saturday morning of next week. So I’ll be spending part of today setting up that trip. Other than that, I have only one internal meeting on the schedule, and I’ll be in the office working on 2019 planning documents for WOLA, and reading, and databasing bits of, some recent government reports.

Gigantic 116th Congress spreadsheet

Below, here as a Google Sheet, and here as an Excel file, is a very detailed spreadsheet of all U.S. representatives and senators who were sworn in today.

I made it by mashing up the data I found useful from the unitedstates/congress-legislators database on GitHub and the freshly updated spreadsheet of member and demographic data compiled by DailyKos. Shortly I’ll add it to a web resource on the Congress that I created in early 2017 but haven’t kept up lately. Time to revive it.

Information here includes:

  • Legislators’ names, states, parties, districts, address and phone info.
  • Legislators’ genders, birthdays, religions, race/ethnicity, and lgbt data.
  • How people voted in legislators’ districts/states during the past few presidential and legislative elections.
  • Demographic information about legislators’ districts and states (ethnicity, education level, income).

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Presidencia de Colombia photo at El Colombiano (Medellín, Colombia). Caption: “El presidente Iván Duque y el secretario de Estado de Estados Unidos, Mike Pompeo, se reunieron para hablar de la crisis venezolana en Cartagena.”

(Even more here)

January 3, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

“Somebody said $2.5 [billion],” Trump said to reporters. “No. Look, this is national security we’re talking about”

He wants you to believe that the southern border is now secured because of his tough measures. But he also wants you to believe the same border is in crisis

The institutional culture of the Border Patrol is, now more than ever, a product of such rhetoric and militaristic thinking

“They started cussing at me in English, ‘F—ing Honduran, F—-ing bull*, Go back to Honduras,” he said. “And then I put my hands in the air and I asked for asylum”

Twelve days into the standoff over Trump’s $5 billion border-wall demand, major components of the U.S. immigration system are offline, out of order or under worsening strain

The first step would be for the Democratic House majority to pass a bill protecting as many dreamers as possible — say, about 2 million of them — along with protecting people with the temporary protected status that Trump has tried to end


Este equipo recibirá entrenamiento y estará a disposición de las Fuerzas Armadas para el caso de que explote un conflicto bélico


Na posse de ministro da Defesa, presidente elogia Sarney, Collor e Itamar, omite nome de FHC e acusa tucano e petistas de ‘esquecerem’ Forças Armadas

Executive order transfers regulation and creation of indigenous reserves to agriculture ministry controlled by agribusiness lobby

In one of a handful of measures that stand to hurt historically marginalized communities, the incoming government on Tuesday transferred responsibility for certifying indigenous territories as protected lands to the ministry of agriculture

Mandates that the office of the Government Secretary, Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory”


“The United States remains deeply concerned about the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia since 2013 and its impact on both our countries,” Pompeo said

Con la muerte de “Guacho” y “Pitufín”, el frente Oliver Sinisterra de las disidencias de las Farc quedó sin mando, pero no ha desaparecido y su amenaza sigue latente

The delegation that took the course is part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s E Company, 98th Civil Affairs Battalion, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Officers deployed in Colombia will conduct a six-month mission to support Comprehensive Action and Development

Colombia, Venezuela

Al término de la reunión entre el presidente Iván Duque y el secretario de Estado de Estados Unidos, Mike Pompeo, en Cartagena, el mandatario colombiano fue crítico de la situación de Venezuela

Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Western Hemisphere Regional

Hoy ya no se trata de escoger entre izquierda o derecha, sino entre autoritarismo o democracia


Netanyahu and Pompeo held an unusual three-way meeting in Brasilia on Tuesday designed to coax Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez into recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital


Since a caravan of Central Americans arrived in Tijuana last month after walking, hitchhiking and taking buses across Mexico, daily apprehensions in the San Diego sector have jumped about 45 percent

Presidente AMLO: si la nación es ingobernable, si su Cuarta Transformación tiene sustancia ética, su regalo a México para el nuevo año ha de ser la justicia

Sheinbaum Pardo aclaró que únicamente se trata de un reforzamiento de esa mesa, y negó que la solicitud sea para que los elementos de dichas dependencias se ubiquen en las calles

Hasta este día, la Guardia Nacional cuenta con 31 mil 145 elementos desplegados en el país y realizan actividades de resguardo de instalaciones estratégicas y de proximidad

Tijuana is closing a bloody year this month, with more than 2,500 homicides expected, a record for the city. As in past years, much of the violence is linked to street-corner drug dealing in the city’s working class neighborhoods


President Daniel Ortega’s forces have launched a wave of repression against civil society groups and journalism outlets that is choking off what little remains of democracy

Brazil, Paraguay

Soon after I left Mr. Veiga’s jail cell on Nov. 17, Lidia Meza Burgos, 18, was led inside, according to Paraguayan police officials. With the plain dining knife he used to eat, Mr. Veiga stabbed her 17 times


The cross-ministry board that controls Spanish military exports approved the sale of €20 million of tank parts to the government of President Nicolás Maduro in the first quarter of 2018

The day ahead: January 3, 2019

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

It’s the first day of the 116th Congress. They’re swearing in a new majority. And that’s about all that’s happening in Washington today.

I’ve got my inboxes largely cleared out following the holiday break, and will be working on our annual planning documents, reading several government reports that came out in December, and going to at least one swearing-in party in the late afternoon and evening.

I’m also about 70 percent certain that I’d like to pay a visit to Tijuana and San Diego for a few days next week, so I’ll be deciding that and putting the details together.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Adriano Machado/Reuters photo at The New York Times. Caption: “Brazilian soldiers during preparations for the far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro’s presidential inauguration on Tuesday. Significant changes have already begun in Brazil.”

(Even more here)

January 2, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

President Trump has invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House on Wednesday for a “briefing” on border security

“When you start interfering with a migration pattern, you better be prepared to deal with the consequences”


Mr. Timerman was foreign minister under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from 2010 until 2015, the year she left office. His tenure was marked by increasing tension between Argentina and the United States


The unusually high number of military officers in his government, including the recently retired army general Hamilton Mourão, who was his running mate, represents a remarkable shift for a nation that kept the military largely out of sight

10 key figures (including former Judge Sérgio Moro and Bolsonaro’s three sons), the main opposition leaders, and his top policy priorities (reducing crime, overhauling education, and more)

Few doubt the far-right populist – who took power on Tuesday – is serious about transforming the world’s fourth largest democracy or that his presidency will be an unpredictable and ill-tempered affair

Brazil, Cuba

There is a cosmic irony to the reactionary Bolsonaro being inaugurated on the sixtieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution


Most of the murders were by illegal armed groups and drug gangs fighting over former Farc territories, UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a report

Uno de los retos principales de la implementación es una mayor presencia del Estado en las zonas afectadas por el conflicto y una respuesta urgente al clamor de las comunidades por seguridad, educación, salud, tierra, infraestructura y alternativas viables

La organización RECON, iniciativa que cada año reconoce los emprendimientos sociales en el país, denunció que en la mañana de este lunes primero de enero uno de los ganadores de esa iniciativa fue asesinado

Colombia, Venezuela

De hecho, se da apenas dos días antes de que el Grupo de Lima, del que hace parte Colombia, se reúna para fijar una posición respecto a la toma de posesión de Maduro nuevamente como presidente de Venezuela


U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement later Tuesday that the gas was used to target rock throwers apart from the migrants who were trying to cross

Agents deployed smoke, pepper spray and CS gas to a position upwind of the rock throwers and south of the border fence

A Reuters witness documented in one photo where a migrant had been hit by what appeared to be a gas canister

Su causa sigue vigente y sus demandas son claras. Lo que ya no parece funcionarles es un discurso cada vez más sectario, desconfiado y sin interlocución con el resto de la sociedad mexicana

Sin mencionar el nombre de Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dijo que “esa esperanza que dicen, no es esperanza”

Alejandro Aparicio was elected mayor of the town in Mexico’s most recent elections in 2018. He was a member of the MORENA political party


El caso que compromete al general del Ejército José Cruz Flores Guerrero como cabecilla de la organización ‘Los Cuellos Verdes del Milagro’ es grave

El fiscal habría ejecutado actos para entorpecer u obstruir el acuerdo de colaboración con la empresa Odebrecht

Peru, Venezuela

Pompeo met with Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Bardales


Venezuela’s exchange rate regime provides no discipline. It only produces instability, poverty, and the world’s highest inflation rate for 2018

Newer Posts
Older Posts
Get a weekly update in your e-mail:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.