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 from July 6

(Even more here)

July 6, 2018

Colombia

Rambo’s presumed return to the criminal world illustrates the risk the Colombian government takes when its implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC is perceived as inconsistent

La antigua cúpula de la Farc debe acudir ante la Sala de Reconocimiento de Verdad para responder por secuestros y secuestrados hoy desaparecidos

The protests were organized hastily over social media following an especially bloody week in which at least four activists were slain

Mientras el actual Gobierno demuestra incapacidad de reacción, en el país están tomando fuerza discursos censurables, pidiendo desde las redes sociales que no lamentemos la muerte de los líderes sociales asesinados porque los asocian con la guerrilla

El subcomandante también informó que abrieron una investigación disciplinaria sobre presuntas amenazas del comandante de la estación policial de Cáceres a la victima

Colombia, Venezuela

“Yo nunca he hablado de intervenciones militares ni de propiciar intervenciones militares. Lo que hay que hacer es ejercer presión diplomática contra la dictadura”, dijo el mandatario

Mexico

López Obrador’s foreign minister will be former Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard

Nicaragua

Les fue aplicada la Ley Magnitsky, una decisión que fue respaldada públicamente por el vicepresidente Mike Pence

Western Hemisphere Regional

June’s numbers suggest that families attempting to enter the country illegally through Arizona were undeterred by the possibility of getting separated

After learning that neighbors had recorded video of children entering the building, an MVM spokesperson said the building “is not a shelter or a child care facility. … It’s a temporary holding place”

The judge ordered the government to deliver a list of the children’s names to the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, by Saturday and said he would decide Monday whether to grant an extension

Some articles I found interesting from July 5

(Even more here)

July 5, 2018

Colombia

El asesinato de los líderes sociales Felicinda Santamaría en el departamento del Chocó y Luis Barrios en el Atlántico, en las últimas 48 horas, sumió

Al menos 178 líderes sociales han sido asesinados en Colombia desde que se firmó en 2016 el acuerdo de paz entre el Gobierno y las Farc. Aunque la Defensoría del Pueblo cuenta un total de 311

Petro afirmó que ella fue amedrentada mientas se encargaba de coordinar su campaña antes de las elecciones hacia la Casa de Nariño

EL HERALDO reconstruyó el recorrido que hizo el líder social antes de su muerte en Palmar de Varela

La preocupación por el aumento de los cultivos ilícitos la heredó el gobierno entrante y con ella la amenaza de descertificación

Para el Ejército, el ELN estaría detrás del múltiple asesinato. Según la Policía, dos de las víctimas eran disidentes de las Farc

Mexico

El colectivo señaló que “esa ley no contribuye a la paz y su simple existencia amenaza e inhibe el ejercicio de los derechos humanos”

Durazo, quien está encargado por Andrés Manuel López Obrador para diseñar las estrategias en la materia, expresa: sería irresponsable (que los integrantes del Ejército y de Marina ya no realicen tareas de seguridad pública) en este momento.

From coast to coast, a wave of MORENA votes washed across the country, cementing the party as the country’s soon-to-be main political force—a remarkable shift

Mexico, Venezuela

Replying to a question about the approach his government would take to the crisis in socialist-led Venezuela, Lopez Obrador said: “We’re going to apply the foreign policy of non-intervention of self-determination of nations”

Western Hemisphere Regional

The Department is no longer disclosing how many children it is holding, but immigration lawyers at the border say that many parents still don’t know where their children are

Currently the government is racing against the clock (and possibly cutting corners) to solve a problem it created by separating families without clear documentation of when they were split up

Administration officials previously had said about 2,300 children had been separated from their parents. But over the weekend, the agency came up with its final accounting that showed nearly 3,000 in total

Of 381 families we interviewed, 278 are still separated. At least two children have been deported without their parents. And at least five parents have been deported without their children

Its origins are unclear, but it was created after U.S. border officials began to limit the number of asylum seekers allowed to enter the San Ysidro Port of Entry

Southwest Border Data Shows ‘Zero Tolerance’ Didn’t Deter Migrants After All

Yesterday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released its June data about migrants apprehended at the border with Mexico. The reduction was laughably small for a month when Jeff Sessions’s cruel “zero tolerance” policy was in full swing.

This post at WOLA’s website builds on Monday’s post here, which was based on a leak of preliminary data. It concludes:

For all of the pain and outrage it has caused, during a month when it was at its most intense and generating worldwide headlines, the “zero tolerance” policy had only a very small deterrent effect on would-be migrants.

Read it here.

The day ahead: July 6, 2018

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

I’m doing two interviews about Colombia this morning. Otherwise, I plan to keep writing both our report on the situation at the border (now over 9,000 words, yikes) and a regular Colombia update. If I’m on a roll with the writing, I may not be checking e-mail or other communications frequently.

The day ahead: July 5, 2018

I’m in meetings most of the afternoon. (How to contact me)

I’m back in Washington after a short break. By the weekend I expect to be done with the first draft of a lengthy report about the situation at the border, based on what we saw in Arizona two weeks ago. When not writing that, I’ll be in three meetings this afternoon, two internal and one with a visiting reporter.

Some articles I found interesting this morning

(Even more here)

July 4, 2018

El domingo asesinaron a dos policías en Las Esquinas, Carazo. Después de tres semanas ellos son la única “ley” en la zona

El general en retiro y exjefe del Ejército de Nicaragua, Humberto Ortega, hermano del presidente designado Daniel Ortega, redactó una carta en la que propone adelantar elecciones presidenciales para el 2019 como la salida pacífica a la crisis

Venezuela

Eventually, McMaster would pull aside the president and walk him through the dangers of an invasion, the official said

Western Hemisphere Regional

The policy is seen as unwanted and unfair in this border city of 142,000 whose population is 90 percent Hispanic and so fully bilingual that roadside anti-littering signs say “No dumping basura”

ICE confirmed to The Intercept on Tuesday that more than 60 women were moved during the secretary’s visit, though the agency claimed the move was for the purpose of “recreation”

A review of regulatory filings, campaign donations and lobbying records reveals a number of important links between people in Mr. Trump’s orbit and the groups poised to earn financial rewards from his immigration policies

Chile

A judge handed down the sentences after leading a long-running inquiry into Jara’s death on 16 September, 45 years ago

Colombia

El alcance de esta política va hasta el 2026 y desde este mes se encuentra en marcha

La estrategia de defensa del próximo gobierno deberá concentrarse en la lucha contra cuatro organizaciones, diferentes entre sí, que todavía le hacen la guerra al Estado

Pobladores de Argelia recordaron que hace apenas una semana un grupo que se autodenominó Comando Popular de Limpieza (CPL), hizo público un panfleto amenazante

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, led a small chorus of conservatives who raised doubts about Joseph Macmanus’ nomination

Mexico

Dijo que no usaría la ley de Seguridad Interior que legalizó las actuaciones del Ejército y de la Marina en la última década y evitó cualquier contacto con el Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP)

El padre y defensor de los migrantes, aclaró que no cree en el poder ni en el dinero, por lo que de ser Ombudsman destinará su sueldo a proyectos productivos

Cruz said Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 64, had been running on an “anti-American campaign for a long, long time.”

Nicaragua

The day ahead: July 3, 2018

I’m off today, visiting family. (How to contact me)

Tomorrow is a national holiday in the United States, and yesterday my father-in-law had a big milestone birthday. So I’m outside Washington spending a few days with family. Regular posting should resume Thursday. Happy Independence Day to U.S. readers.

“Zero Tolerance” Didn’t Deter Many Migrants

Much of the country, and the world, have been shocked by the cruelty of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance, arrest-everyone-and-separate-parents-and-children policy. In the face of criticism, administration officials have contended that the policy promised to “deter” potential future migrants from attempting the journey.

That assertion would meet its big test in the number of migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended in the month of June. With the “zero tolerance” policy going firmly into effect around May 5, and media reports of family separations accumulating by the end of the month, would fewer people try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in June?

Actually, the number of migrant apprehensions nearly always goes down from May to June, for seasonal reasons: it is scorchingly, dangerously hot in the arid deserts along the southwest border. So in order to judge “deterrence” resulting from zero tolerance, we need to know whether the reduction was more than the seasonal average.

Yesterday, July 1, Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat got a leak of a preliminary June apprehension figure. The drop from May to June 2018 was 15.6 percent, from 40,344 apprehensions to 34,057.

Border Patrol furnishes monthly apprehensions data since 2000, allowing us to judge whether 15.6 percent is abnormally high. It isn’t.

Between 2000 and 2017, the average monthly drop from Mays to Junes at the U.S.-Mexico border was 21.3 percent: 5.7 percentage points steeper than 2018’s drop of 15.6 percent. The May to June 2018 drop in migration was smaller than the average of the previous 18 years, showing no deterrent effect at all.

Between 2011 and 2017, a period of sharply reduced migration, the average May-June drop was much lower: 11.3 percent. The May to June 2018 drop in migration, then, was 4.3 percentage points larger than the average of the previous 7 years, showing only a very modest potential deterrent effect.

Had 2018 matched the 2011-2017 average, Border Patrol would have apprehended 35,785 migrants at the border. Instead, it apprehended 34,057. The difference is 1,758. So perhaps that is about how many migrants were “deterred.” Not much.

For all of the pain and outrage it has caused, during a month when it was at its most intense and generating worldwide headlines, the “zero tolerance” policy had only an extremely modest deterrent effect on would-be migrants.

Instead of this cruel wrong turn, it’s beyond time to focus on the violence, corruption, and misrule pushing tens of thousands of Central Americans out of their home countries.

Year May-June Change May June
2000 -30.8% 166,296 115,093
2001 -27.5% 122,927 89,131
2002 -19.3% 97,424 78,655
2003 -14.8% 88,690 75,530
2004 -20.3% 118,726 94,590
2005 -21.6% 115,823 90,786
2006 -35.2% 105,450 68,366
2007 -19.4% 88,504 71,338
2008 -22.2% 69,233 53,854
2009 -9.5% 50,884 46,044
2010 -30.0% 47,045 32,955
2011 -13.0% 31,236 27,166
2012 -17.0% 36,966 30,669
2013 -21.5% 43,856 34,436
2014 -4.6% 60,683 57,862
2015 -7.2% 31,576 29,303
2016 -14.6% 40,337 34,450
2017 10.8% 14,519 16,087
2018 (unofficial) -15.6% 40,344 34,057
Average May→June decrease 2000-2017 -21.3%
Average May→June decrease 2011-2017 -11.3%
Source: http://bit.ly/2F1UHsc

The day ahead: June 29, 2018

I’m unreachable mid-afternoon, writing otherwise, so replies may be delayed. (How to contact me)

I’m in the thick of drafting our reporting on last week’s border field research, and have an internal planning meeting in the mid-afternoon. I’ll only be looking at e-mail and other communications intermittently.

The day ahead: June 28, 2018

I’m writing at home, but semi-reachable, in the morning. In the office, and reachable, in the early afternoon. Unreachable after mid-afternoon. (How to contact me)

After last week’s border trip and a lot of side research, I’ve got a 115-page matrix of findings, conclusions, and recommendations, using a methodology I learned doing that USAID Colombia evaluation earlier this year. At this point, it will be a matter of 10-15 hours to draft a detailed, graphical (and much shorter) report that we can publish after the July 4 break.

So I’m working on that all morning, at home, through lunchtime. Then I’ll head to the office and do some housekeeping and news updating. At 4:00 I’m on a panel at the Inter-American Dialogue about Colombia’s incoming government and the peace process. Come by and say hi if you’re in DC.

Most new cocaine production is not U.S.-bound (unless the law of supply and demand is broken)

Dig up all the U.S. government’s estimates of how many tons of cocaine are produced in the Andes, from the State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports.

Then look at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s purity-and-inflation-adjusted estimates of how much the average gram of cocaine costs on U.S. streets. (Table 7.5 here.)

That data, graphed out, looks like these:

In basic economics classes, you quickly learn the law of supply and demand: when something is more plentiful or demand for it decreases, the price goes down. When it becomes scarcer or demand increases, the price goes up.

That’s barely happening here. Between 2012 and 2016, the U.S. government’s estimate of South American cocaine production shot up 113 percent. In Colombia, the source of about 92 percent of cocaine consumed in the United States, cocaine production increased 268 percent.

With that much more illegal product headed our way, you’d expect U.S. street prices to fall sharply between 2012 and 2016. And they did fall—but not sharply. The estimated price of a gram of cocaine dropped only 15 percent over those four years.

What’s going on here? It’s possible that both supply and price estimates are wildly inaccurate. It’s also possible that most of the new cocaine supplies are headed to other countries, like Europe, Brazil, even China.

The White House contended in a press release Monday that increased cocaine supply “directly relates” to increased demand. “The number of new cocaine users in the United States has increased by 81% since 2013,” it reads, “and overdose deaths involving cocaine have more than doubled during that same timeframe.” Most of that increase in overdose deaths (66 percent of cases in 2015) involves combining cocaine with opioids.

These worrying indicators are still lower than the 268 percent supply increase from Colombia. Prices would have to drop more than 15 percent to entice that kind of an increase in users.

The most likely explanation, then, is that most of the new worldwide cocaine supply is not coming to the United States. The new UNODC World Drug Report, released this week, estimates that North America accounts for 34 percent of the world’s cocaine market—that’s down from “about half” in the agency’s 2000 report.

“Facebook live” coming up in <45 minutes

(Update 5:00PM: That was fun. I think we hit all our points concisely and it turned out really well.)

From WOLA’s website:

Update from the border: Facebook live

2:00 PM EDT WEDNESDAY, 27 JUNE 2018
WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/WOLA.ORG/
WOLA’s Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights Maureen Meyer and Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson just returned from a research trip to the U.S.-Mexico Border in Arizona where they investigated what is happening to migrant families and asylum seekers on both sides of the border.Maureen and Adam were in Arizona and in Nogales, Mexico, when the Trump administration announced its shifting policies on family separation. They had an opportunity to speak with migrants, volunteers, and lawyers on both sides of the border to hear first hand why so many families continue to flee their home countries. They also witnessed how dozens of families and children are waiting for days on the Mexican side of the border for the chance to apply for asylum at the understaffed ports of entry, while many others are forced by organized crime networks to cross the border outside of the ports leaving them to face criminal prosecution and detention in the U.S.

Tune in on Facebook Wednesday to hear more about what they saw, what WOLA and advocates are doing about it, and how you can help.

An early incident casts doubt on the incoming Colombian president’s independence—and the peace accord’s future

An incident late last week in Bogotá, getting reported as hearsay in Colombia’s media, raises serious concerns about the independence of President-Elect Iván Duque from his patron, the hardline former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe. It also raises concerns that the peace accord with the FARC, which Duque and Uribe both criticize but Duque has promised not to “tear up,” is in grave trouble.

Here, writing in Spain’s El País, is analyst Ariel Avila of the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, a critic of Duque and Uribe:

The transition between the outgoing and incoming government has begun and, as expected, the peace issue has been the most decisive. Currently, the Congress is considering a bill that would become the procedural law for the JEP, or Special Peace Jurisdiction [the peace accords’ transitional justice mechanism for trying the most serious war crimes]. Though it is an ordinary law that only impacts timeframes and procedures, the Democratic Center Party [that of Iván Duque and ex-president Álvaro Uribe] opposed it and has blocked its advance through the Congress.

In their meeting last week, both President Juan Manuel Santos and the president-elect, Iván Duque, decided to call the president of the Constitutional Court, Colombia’s maximum judicial tribunal, in order to clear up some of the new government’s doubts about this law. Several sources said that Congresswoman Paloma Valencia, one of the most active in ex-president Álvaro Uribe’s party, upon hearing that Duque green-lighted a meeting of congressional blocs to move the bill forward, immediately took out her telephone and apparently called Uribe, not Iván Duque. And as would be expected, Uribe added conditions to President-Elect Duque’s decision.

El Espectador offers a bit more detail about this bizarre incident.

There is a final detail that El Espectador learned. Sources with seats in the Capitol confirmed that, while the Santos-Duque meeting was happening, another meeting was taking place in the Interior Ministry with a subcommittee of legislators who were delegated to review the JEP’s situation. …What drew attention was the phone call that the uribista congresswoman [Senator Paloma Valencia] made while the meeting was going on.

What happened? The first agreement that Santos and Duque arrived at, as the President himself said on Friday, was to call the president of the Constitutional Court, Alejandro Linares, to get him to clear up the president-elect’s doubts about whether or not procedure allowed the JEP’s law to be approved [before the Court has ruled on the constitutionality of the JEP’s larger statutory law, passed last November. The Constitutional Court ruling on that is due any day now].

Linares said that the Santos administration was right, and there was a green light to pass the law. With these doubts cleared up, the incoming chief of state asked for a meeting between his party’s congressional bloc and representatives of other parties to hear proposals about the bill that would become the procedural law.

The message—and this is what those present in the Interior Ministry say—arrived immediately. The government conveyed the message to Paloma Valencia who, surprised, apparently said, “Iván said that?”

She immediately grabbed her mobile phone: “Hola, pre [as in ‘presidente’].”

But she wasn’t talking to Duque, but to ex-president Álvaro Uribe, whom she consulted about the new president’s decision, asking him for instructions.

Uribe gave his approval to what was agreed between the outgoing and incoming presidents, but he asked the Senator [Valencia] to add three conditions: that FARC members responsible for the most serious crimes would be prohibited from participating in politics, to create a new separate chamber to judge military personnel within the JEP, and to establish a special procedure for third-party civilians involved in the conflict [for instance, landowners or politicians who aided paramilitaries. These three conditions radically alter what is in the peace accord and could be dealbreakers].

Without alluding directly to this episode, President Santos said, “Those issues would require a constitutional reform, but any modification on which there is consensus, that improves the accords, would be welcome.” …However, he alerted that “it’s not the right moment to block efforts to do our duty to the victims. I hope that you vote on the JEP procedural law. I’m leaving government and I leave peace in your hands.”

What happened behind the backdrop is a first bit of evidence about the independence of the president-elect, Iván Duque, and the leadership that he will exercise over his party’s bloc in the Congress, of which ex-president Uribe is also a part.

Ávila concludes:

For context, two considerations. On one hand, Iván Duque’s independence is going to be rather complicated, and the fear that he may look more like a puppet than a president is starting to circulate in the corridors of politics. It would be something like the relation between Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev in Russia. And on the other hand, everything seems to indicate that the idea of destroying all of President Santos’s legacy, and obviously the peace deal, is their first and most important objective.

WOLA Podcast: What We Saw at the Border

Here’s a new podcast with Maureen Meyer and Adeline Hite, whom I accompanied last week at the Arizona-Mexico border. We cover a lot of ground in this 25-minute conversation about the things that most stood out to us on last week’s trip, which I documented in a few posts from the road: what “zero tolerance” looks like in Arizona, who is coming and seeking asylum, what’s happening at ports of entry, and the tragedy of family separations..

24 years of coca and eradication in Colombia

Over the years I’ve been inadvertently building a big collection of “graphs that need periodic updating, which makes them more complicated.”

This one depicts coca cultivation in Colombia, and efforts to eradicate it, since 1994. There are two measures of coca cultivation, from the United States and the UN. Eradication has mostly occurred through aerial spraying of herbicides (which stopped in 2015) and through manual uprooting or spraying of plants.

New U.S. data came out yesterday, with a stern scolding from the White House. The UN hasn’t issued its 2017 estimate yet, but local media have reported 180,000 hectares last year.

This chart tells quite a story if you stare at it long enough. But my main takeaways are:

  • Aerial herbicide fumigation—the cruelest of the strategies because it anonymously dumps herbicides over small farmers’ legal crops and homes while leaving behind no government presence—is able to reduce coca cultivation from “insanely high” to “moderately high” levels, after which growers adjust and bring cultivation back up to “high” levels.
  • Manual eradication seems to correlate more strongly with reductions in coca growing, and it requires at least some on-the-ground government presence. But it’s dangerous for the eradicators, generates conflict with communities, and growers replant if the government disappears once the eradicators vacate the area.
  • What hasn’t been tried is actually having a functioning government presence on the ground providing public goods (security, roads, land titles) necessary for a legal economy to exist. The FARC peace accord offers one version of a blueprint for how to make that work, and has improved security conditions, for now. But with the accord’s critics waiting to take power on Colombia’s August 7 inauguration day, that blueprint’s future is in doubt.
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