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 14, 2019

I’ll be around in the morning. (How to contact me)

I’ll be in the office this morning, running a bit late finishing a memo about Colombia and an article about U.S. security relations with the whole region. In the afternoon I’m on a call with border groups, meeting with a grad student working on Colombia, and meeting with a philanthropist about Colombia. I may be hard to contact in the afternoon.

President Trump’s 2020 Budget Request Proposes a Dark but Unlikely Future for Aid to Latin America

The Trump White House sent Congress its 2020 foreign aid request on Monday, and boy is it grim. It’s never going to become law—the steep cuts it proposes will be opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. But it’s still terrifying to see such destructive radicalism coming from an entire branch of the U.S. government.

Adeline Hite and I wrote an overview of the highlights for Latin America, with some colorful charts like this one. We just posted it to WOLA’s website, so go read it there.

WOLA Podcast: Security, Impunity, and Reform in El Salvador

This makes three podcasts in three weeks. I can’t believe it, either. Here’s the latest (which you can download directly here):

An update from Cristian Schlick of El Salvador’s IDHUCA

El Salvador is inaugurating a new president amid a severe security crisis. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans are abandoning their homes each year—most displacing internally and many moving to other countries—due to gang violence. Despite incipient recent reform efforts, government institutions have been either too absent or too corrupt to protect people.

This podcast features Cristian Schlick, a lawyer with the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (IDHUCA) in El Salvador. He will be speaking at an event on “Violence and Hardline Citizen Security in El Salvador,” hosted by WOLA and the Due Process of Law Foundation, this Thursday March 14 at 4:30PM.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

March 13, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

China’s development lending to Latin America and the Caribbean has been larger than lending from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and CAF Development Bank of Latin America combined


Officials have yet to outline a motive for the killing or identify the person or people who ordered it

Investigators said Lessa fired the shots that killed Franco and Gomes on 14 March last year, on the north side of Rio. Queiroz drove the car that ambushed them


Los ganadores fueron una serie de civiles, políticos y empresarios, que en lo fundamental se quedaron con la mayoría de los seis millones de hectáreas despojadas a campesinos y utilizaron los grupos armados ilegales como un mecanismo de competencia política

Que el Legislativo rechace las objeciones, que las acepte o que la ley se archive

La visión que tiene el Gobierno sobre los cultivos ilícitos es sumamente simplista y moralista, pues como han demostrado varios estudios de gobierno anteriores, los cultivos son producto de una compleja combinación de factores

Cuba, Venezuela

Trump is proposing a 40 percent cut to funds that promote democracy and human rights in Venezuela at the same time that he and Vice President Mike Pence make promises to stick by the Venezuelan people


The approval of these reforms would seriously affect victims’ rights to justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. It could also lead to reprisals and attacks against victims, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, plaintiffs, witnesses, experts and others involved in human rights trials

This is not a recipe for reconciliation; it is a path to disaster for Guatemala and the region


La noche del 17 de diciembre de 2017, personas de diferentes barrios y colonias de la ciudad de Choluteca salieron a protestar a inmediaciones del bulevar salida a San Marcos de Colón, donde llegó un contingente integrado por al menos 50 militares disparando a bala viva


De 2012 a 2019, la proporción es de 23 presuntos infractores muertos por cada lesionado, al enfrentarse con la Marina

In many corners of Mexico, ordinary people often see crime bosses as less predatory than state governors and congressmen

This is a line of more than 250 families, over 1,000-people-long, sheltered under blue tarps during hot days and sleeping on a freezing sidewalk overnight. Many have been here for months

The policy began at the San Ysidro port of entry, near Tijuana, but has expanded within the last week to include migrants crossing at additional ports of entry in the San Diego sector and at the Calexico, California, port of entry

Mr. López Obrador is filling Supreme Court vacancies with his supporters, and the political opposition is in complete disarray. The only opposition exists in the markets and the punditocracy

Destacó que la inseguridad ha dejado de ser atendida con el uso de la fuerza y el autoritarismo como estrategia principal


The regime responded to the deepening crisis by ordering the arrest of a prominent Venezuelan journalist, while calling on its violent allies, the paramilitary colectivos, to be on guard

The detention of Mr. Díaz has jolted Venezuelan civil society. Some called it President Nicolás Maduro’s most brazen attempt yet to scapegoat critics for the blackout

The only viable path out of this crisis is a multilateral process that leads to free and fair elections, in which Venezuelans can choose their leaders. This must include a multilateral plan to address the humanitarian emergency on the ground without instigating armed conflict

Are you going in – is this Saigon ’75?

The move to vacate the United States Embassy in Caracas was a significant setback for the Trump administration. American officials had previously vowed to keep diplomats in Venezuela to legitimize Juan Guaidó

The day ahead: March 13, 2019

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

I’m meeting with a colleague from a foundation this morning, and we have an internal WOLA meeting at lunch hour. Otherwise I’ll be at my desk, writing about Colombia, doing some documentary research, and preparing for a few upcoming in-person briefings. Within a few hours, I’ll post a new WOLA Podcast about El Salvador.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Gustavo Torrijos photo at El Espectador (Colombia). Caption: “De acuerdo con informes presentados por la JEP, el flagelo de los falsos positivos se concentró en 29 de los 32 departamentos del país.”

(Even more here)

March 12, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

The demand for $8.6 billion for a border wall, less than two months after a 35-day partial government shutdown paralyzed much of Washington, raised the possibility that there could be an even more dramatic impasse

In the event the supreme court rules and allows the government to resume aerial eradication, provide resources from the United States for that program. So that’s why you see significant uptick


Os dois foram presos na madrugada desta terça-feira, 12. A denúncia formulada pelo Grupo de Atuação Especial de Combate ao Crime Organizado do MP-RJ classificou o crime como um “golpe ao Estado Democrático de Direito”


Fecode, las comunidades indígenas, afros y campesinas del suroccidente del país y los cultivadores de coca en Meta, Caquetá y el sur de Córdoba anuncian protestas

Authorities at the Port of New York and New Jersey have seized about 3,200 pounds of cocaine in what authorities are calling the largest cocaine seizure at the port in nearly 25 years

En entrevista con BLU Radio dijo que el espaldarazo a Duque se basa en cuatro puntos fundamentales, que incluyen el tratado de extradición y el manejo del listado de miembros de las extintas Farc para evitar colados

Lamentamos que, a más de dos años de la firma del Acuerdo Final, la JEP aún no cuente con una Ley Estatutaria, marco jurídico sólido que garantice su operación en pleno ejercicio de autonomía e independencia

El gobierno del presidente Iván Duque Márquez persiste en formular nuevos obstáculos, o en intentar revivir debates ya superados en el trámite legislativo de las normas que deben regular el funcionamiento del recién inaugurado sistema de justicia transicional


The amnesty has gained traction in Congress as part of a reaction against a broader fight against impunity and corruption


Las tres candidatas han sido severamente cuestionadas por la sociedad civil por su cercanía con el partido político del Presidente López Obrador

AMLO’s calculated strategy isn’t a new Mexican playbook. It harkens back to the PRI’s heyday


Gen. Céliz, a WHINSEC instructor in the late ‘90s, caught up with former colleagues and conducted a lecture for the WHINSEC Command and General Staff Officer course

Cuba, Venezuela

This story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare


Many parts of the country are still cut off and it is hard to get a full account of their situation. Even when the electricity returns, it is often patchy and only lasts for a few hours

Guaidó said the exodus of millions of Venezuelans over the last several years likely meant there were not enough engineers left to help end the blackouts

Mr. Pompeo said the move reflected the “deteriorating situation” in the country and the belief that the presence of American diplomats “has become a constraint on U.S. policy.” The last phrase could be read as hinting at some form of military intervention

The day ahead: March 12, 2019

I’m around for much of the day. (How to contact me)

I’m in the office all day, with three phone meetings on the calendar but otherwise at my desk. I’ll be doing logistics for planned travel in April (border) and May (Latin American Studies Association conference); helping put together an analysis of the Trump budget request issued yesterday; and writing a memo about recent developments in Colombia.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

Valery Sharifulin/Tass/Zuma Press photo at The Wall Street Journal. Caption: “A massive power outage in Venezuela has left the streets of the capital Caracas dark.”

(Even more here)

March 11, 2019

Western Hemisphere Regional

Mr. Trump will request $8.6 billion in the annual budget proposal, aides said

“This is where we’ve seen a few of the large groups come through. They come to the end of the fence, come right around this edge and make their way and turn themselves in to the agents here”

According to an internal document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection anticipate between 51,000 and 58,000 migrants traveling as families will either cross the border illegally or ask for asylum at a legal border crossing this month

She is introducing the bipartisan U.S. Customs and Border Protection Rural and Remote Hiring and Retention Strategy Act with Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

Activists and freelance journalists named in the leaked dossiers, published last week by San Diego’s NBC7, have reported being stopped and searched when they cross back into the U.S.


The authorities investigating Marielle’s death have neither confirmed or denied that they are following lines of investigation reported by the media regarding the possible involvement in of military police officers, local officials, militia groups or a group of professional hitmen


La objeción sólo generaría un debate de ocho o nueve meses y que, finalmente, tendría que echarla a andar

Eso puede llevar a que muchos decidan finalmente irse a engrosar las filas de las disidencias, algo que jefes de la Farc como Fabián Ramírez han intentado evitar


With the failure of these motions challenging the amnesty bill to be approved, the second reading concluded, paving the way for it to advance to the third and final reading before it can become law


Si bien celebran medidas como las liberaciones de los denominados presos políticos, miran con recelo y preocupación decisiones como la creación de una Guardia Nacional, y alertan sobre una continua criminalización de defensores de derechos humanos y periodistas

En el primer bimestre de la administración morenista la violencia creció 2.12 por ciento al registrar 102 crímenes más que el último bimestre de Enrique Peña Nieto


Restarting the turbines requires skilled operators who can synchronize the speed of rotation on as many as nine of Guri’s operational turbines. Experts said the most experienced operators have long left the company

“We say you should not be helping this regime. You should be on the side of the Venezuelan people,” Elliott Abrams told Reuters

“[Monday] will be a key day, depending on what happens with the electricity [on Sunday],” he said, concerned there would be more deaths

A reconstruction of the moment when a truck bearing humanitarian supplies was set on fire shows the likely cause was a Molotov cocktail thrown by a protester

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.

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Tuesday, March 12

Wednesday, March 13

Thursday, March 14

  • 12:15–1:45 at the Inter-American Dialogue: Energy Policy in Argentina: A Conversation with Secretary Lopetegui (RSVP required).
  • 12:30–1:30 in Room 421, Cannon House Office Building: Challenges & Contributions of TPS Holders.
  • 12:30–2:00 at Georgetown University: Art & Political Dissidence with Juan Luis Landaeta (RSVP required).
  • 4:30–6:00 at WOLA: Violence and Hardline Citizen Security in El Salvador (RSVP required).
  • 5:00–6:30 at the Atlantic Council: Plan País: Building the New Venezuela – A Roadmap for Reconstruction (RSVP required).

WOLA Podcast: A Humanitarian Crisis, Not a National Emergency

Here’s a conversation with my WOLA colleague Maureen Meyer about the border, which we recorded last Thursday afternoon and posted last Friday morning.

U.S. and Mexican border communities are contending with a surge of asylum-seeking children and parents, arriving by the thousands each day. The Trump administration portrays it as a “national emergency” and is sending troops, turning asylum-seekers away, and circumventing Congress to build walls.

Adam Isacson (WOLA’s Director for Defense Oversight) and Maureen Meyer (WOLA’s Director for Mexico and Migration) discuss why the crisis is happening, and the Trump administration’s cruel efforts to “deter” migrants. Adam talks about what he’s seen over two weeks in San Diego and Tijuana so far this year. Then both outline a vision of what the process for asylum-seekers would look like if the U.S. and Mexican governments adjusted from a “security emergency” to a “humanitarian crisis” response.

Resources cited in the podcast include:

  • WOLA’s graphical overview of the February migrant data, which U.S. Customs and Border Protection released on March 5.
  • A December 2018 “snapshot” report, and February 2019 update, detailing current asylum waitlists at ports of entry across the U.S.-Mexico border, by the Strauss Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California at San Diego, and the Migration Policy Center at the European University Institute.
  • WOLA’s Central America Monitor, which tracks U.S. aid to the region and evaluates its progress.
  • WOLA’s new Asylum Resources for Attorneys, compiled with the Temple University Beasley School of Law to provide resources for lawyers representing Central American asylum seekers.

Restarting Aerial Fumigation of Drug Crops in Colombia is a Mistake

Colombia’s Constitutional Court met today to discuss the government’s plans to reinstate aerial spraying of coca. President Iván Duque was the first to address the high court; he asked the justices to “modulate” their past rulings to allow more spraying.

I just posted an analysis of this to WOLA’s website. It addresses a series of questions:

  • Why did coca cultivation increase so much?
  • Is glyphosate dangerous?
  • What restrictions did Colombia’s Constitutional Court put in place in 2017?
  • What do the peace accords call for?
  • What do US officials say?
  • Is aerial spraying effective?
  • What other options are there?
  • How else could we measure success?
  • Is crop eradication effective in any form?

Read the whole thing here.

The day ahead: March 6, 2019

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

Yesterday morning, I wrote that I had to spend the day getting re-organized after much travel and time spent reacting to things. But CBP released numbers showing a big jump in February family migration, so I spent the afternoon working on that instead.

So today I’m working at home, planning out the next few months and watching the several hearings on border security and migration happening before congressional committees. My replies may be delayed.

Graphics: the new CBP border/migration data in context

This afternoon U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released a lot of new data about migrants at the border through February. Here are updated versions of some graphics, using official data, that put those numbers in context.

For the first time ever, an incredible 61 percent of all migrants apprehended by Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border are children, and parents with children. This proportion was never as high as 10 percent before 2012.
Child and family apprehensions took a big leap in February, overwhelming Border Patrol’s capacity to deal with them—and U.S. humanitarian groups’ capacity as well.
The number of single adults being apprehended at the border remains near 50-year lows, and less than most of 2016. The typical migrant is no longer an adult traveling alone.
The same thing is happening in Mexico, which has seen asylum requests almost double every year since 2014. As in the United States, most of those requesting are citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras fleeing violence and poverty.
At official land ports of entry, there has been no increase in asylum-seekers. That is because CBP is rigidly “metering” arrivals of those who would seek asylum the “proper” way, posting officers at the borderline to prevent them from presenting themselves inside the ports.
The largest percent increase in migration in February came from Honduras. Some were probably participants in a mid-January caravan, who received humanitarian visas from the Mexican government. As this was a one-time event—Mexico is not offering the visas in-country now—the number of Hondurans may drop in March.
Guatemala is the number-one country for child and family arrivals. The flow is heaviest from the country’s rural highlands. A robust trafficking route is taking many to remote desert zones like Yuma and the New Mexico bootheel.
El Salvador has dropped to a distant third in child and family arrivals. The “northern triangle” is increasingly two-sided.
Arrivals from other countries are up, too. Many are probably fleeing Nicaragua’s brutal crackdown on dissent.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
CBP data show that of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine seized at the border, the overwhelming majority—80 to 90 percent—is seized at ports of entry, not the spaces between the ports where walls would be built.
The one drug that is primarily seized between the ports of entry, where walls would be built, is marijuana. But marijuana trafficking from Mexico has dropped sharply since 2013. Several U.S. states’ legalization dealt a severe blow to Mexican cannabis traffickers.
The average Border Patrol agent apprehended 23 migrants during all of fiscal 2018. And 9 of them (40 percent) were children and families who, in most cases, sought to be apprehended.
Though we still await data for 2018, in 2017 Border Patrol agents were apprehending far more migrants in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley sector than elsewhere.

Huge archive of congressional hearing audios about Latin America and the border

I can only rarely attend congressional hearings, and during a week like this one, when several hearings are happening at the same time, I can’t view them on video either. And anyway, who has the time to sit through hours of videos, which require you to stop what you’re doing to both watch and listen?

Still, hearings are a critical way to get information about U.S. policy toward Latin America. You learn a lot from officials’ responses to questions (some of which we’ve suggested). And you learn a lot about what legislators’ priorities are, and what it might be worth following up with their offices about.

So for the past couple of years, I’ve saved mp3 audio of every congressional hearing I’ve found relevant (thanks, youtube-dl, for making that easy). I can listen to an mp3 while doing something else that doesn’t require a lot of concentration, like driving, exercising, or doing the dishes.

At this point, I have quite an archive: 54 hearing audios since 2017, all of them with metadata following the same format. Here they are in one Google Drive folder, going up to last Friday.

They’re all mp3 files—just drop them on iTunes, Overcast, or your preferred audio player. (Tell iTunes that they’re “audiobooks” and it’ll remember your place.) I try to keep this folder reasonably up to date.

I suspect that if you’re geeky enough to find this useful, you may already have a similar system for keeping up with this information. Still, I hope it’s helpful to someone else out there.

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