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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Five links from the past week

  • There had been some doubt cast about the real extent of non-consensual surgeries performed on female migrants held at ICE’s Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. There’s less doubt now., as the Los Angeles Times’s Molly O’Toole reports that 19 women have now come forward. Some of the testimonies here are hard to read.
  • A team of reporters from Colombia’s La Silla Vacía did months of follow-up, and has confirmed that 222 social leaders were assassinated in the 602 days between President Iván Duque’s August 2018 inauguration and the end of March 2020. They profile the victims by geography, age, gender, ethnicity, and type of activism, finding a significant correlation with claims involving land tenure or coca.
  • Guatemala’s CICIG is gone, but an office called the Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor’s Bureau (FECI) is hanging on amid a full-on backlash by corrupt elites. At El Faro, Sandra Cuffe details the FECI’s latest big case: the minister of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing had more than US$15 million stuffed into 22 suitcases.
  • Pablo Solón, who heads the Fundación Solón in La Paz and is the son of noted Bolivian artist Walter Solón, served as Bolivia’s UN ambassador during Evo Morales’s government, but later distanced himself from Morales. His “supportive of MAS but not in the tank for Evo” perspective on Bolivia’s landslide presidential election outcome is a nuanced must-read. “MAS did not win because of Evo, but in spite of Evo.”
  • At the Huffington Post, three reporters talk to former diplomats, members of Congress, and others who should know—and they conclude that if Joe Biden wins on November 3, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro “could find himself quickly isolated on the global stage” if he doesn’t change course on climate change.

5 links from the past week

  • Two New York Times reporters and a photographer traveled 1,000 miles across Colombia to find out how badly people are hurting as the pandemic approaches (but hasn’t yet reached) it’s height. People are hurting really f***ing badly, they found.
  • Colombia’s La Silla Vacía ran an interesting interview with psychologist Sandra Trujillo, whose work has focused on the mindset of military personnel and other combatants. What explains the lack of empathy, of humanity, that has been evident from Colombia to Minneapolis to the U.S.-Mexico border? A few clues here.
  • Brookings’s Vanda Felbab-Brown examines eight occasions since 1990 when Latin American governments negotiated with violent criminal (not insurgent, not political) groups. She highlights several preliminary findings, much of them reasons why this is a lot more difficult than a political negotiation.
  • Spain’s El País accompanies one of very few mothers in Mexico whose missing son’s remains are identified and handed over to her. To me, anyway, her story says so much about daily life for the majority in Mexico today.
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine reveals something that many of us suspected: teams carrying out (often U.S.-backed) coca eradication systematically inflate their numbers. It’s hard to blame them, given the conditions under which they work.

5 links from the past week

  • The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff published a photo-heavy look at how drug traffickers, often flying and abandoning expensive jets from Venezuela, have penetrated an ecologically fragile national park in Guatemala’s Petén region.
  • The Cruel Road North” is the result of a collaboration among numerous media outlets in several countries, under the umbrella of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The multi-part, multimedia presentation explores the journey of extra-continental migrants across Latin America to the United States, and the attendant criminal, smuggling, and corruption networks.
  • Another multi-part, multimedia presentation comes from the Colombian Commission of Jurists and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective. “The Silence of the Flutes” lays bare the Colombian military’s responsibility for historically brutal paramilitary massacres that took place in the northern Montes de María region in 2000 and 2001.
  • The International Crisis Group looks at El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s curious success in curbing gang violence. “While the public celebrates” the authoritarian-trending leader’s “well-known ‘iron fist’ policies, the reasons for success might lie in quiet, informal understandings between gangs and the government.”
  • Back to Guatemala: at Boston Review, Kirsten Weld tells the story of the police archive that became a crucial source of information about human rights abuses committed during the country’s 36-year civil war. Amid a hardline backlash and the Trump administration’s silence, access to the archive is now impossible.

5 links from the past week

  • In late May the U.S. State Department quietly certified that the Bukele government in El Salvador, the Giammattei government in Guatemala, and the Juan Orlando Hernandez government in Honduras met all human rights and anti-corruption requirements that Congress put in place as conditions for receiving aid. El Faro reports on everything the State Department had to ignore in order to “certify” El Salvador.
  • The Project on Government Oversight compiles border wall contract data and finds that 38 construction contracts have been signed with 22 companies for a total of $6.1 billion, “which is already more than what Congress appropriated for the wall since Trump took office.”
  • While FARC members are participating in Colombia’s post-conflict transitional justice system, their former kidnap victims are increasingly angry at the ex-guerrillas’ efforts to downplay the barbarity of how they were treated while in custody. Andrés Bermúdez Liévano reports for
  • InsightCrime published a great interview with Nina Lakhani, a journalist who published a book this week about murdered activist Berta Cáceres, and the struggle of indigenous and environmental defenders in Honduras. (Also listen to my podcast interview.)
  • Lima’s El Comercio visits Madre De Dios, a region of Peru’s Amazon basin that has been ravaged for several years by widespread illicit gold mining. Reporter Francesca García Delgado finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has done nothing to slow the damage.
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