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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Lars Schoultz: “I Wrote This Book for People Like You”: Lars Schoultz takes on U.S. “uplifters” of Latin America

I’ve been reading Lars Schoultz’s scholarship on U.S.-Latin America relations since I was in college, and I was delighted that he would record a podcast.

The longtime professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published an award-winning book in 2018, In Their Own Best Interest. In it, he takes to task U.S. policymakers and advocates who seek to “uplift” or “improve” Latin American nations, viewing them as part of a very long tradition going back to imperialists of the gunboat diplomacy era. He notes that some countries are hardly better off after a century of U.S. “uplifting,” and worries about how our grandchildren will view the policies that we advocate for today.

Is WOLA guilty of this? While I frankly don’t see much of myself in Schoultz’s characterization of our work, I really enjoyed engaging him in this lively and very thought-provoking discussion. I think you’ll like this one a lot.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Investing in Amazon Crude: Oil, Finance, and Survival

Despite the grim subject matter, I enjoyed recording this conversation with two colleagues whom I’ve known for many years. I also don’t know much at all about the topic, so a lot of their recent report was new to me. They handled my basic questions very well. Here’s the text from WOLA’s website:

Preserving the Amazon rainforest ecosystem is essential to slowing climate change, but that is getting harder to do. When you think about environmental destruction in the Amazon region, you may picture illegal logging, cattle ranchers, agribusiness, and devastating fires. But it turns out that at least the western part of the Amazon is sitting on a sea of oil as well, and companies are moving in. These companies are getting financed by some big banks and investment firms in the United States.

In early March, Amazon Watch published a report on oil exploration plans and global financial firms’ role, Investing in Amazon Crude. We talk about the report’s findings, and what can be done about them, with two longtime Latin America human rights advocates from Amazon Watch. Moira Birss is the organization’s climate and finance director, and Andrew Miller is the advocacy director.

Listen above, or download the .mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Soldiers and Civilians in Latin America Today

Here’s a conversation we recorded late Friday over a beer.

After nearly 30 years of movement away from military rule and toward civilian democracy, Latin America’s armed forces are again playing larger, more political roles. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the trend, with the danger that having soldiers on the streets may again become “normalized” throughout the region.

Joining me to talk about this is Gregory Weeks, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Weeks doesn’t see a return to 1970s-style military regimes anytime soon—but he is not optimistic about civil-military relations in the region.

A political scientist, Weeks is the author of two volumes that appear very often in university Latin American studies curricula: Understanding Latin American Politics (available as a free PDF and for sale) and U.S. and Latin American Relations. He is one of the first Latin America bloggers, posting to Two Weeks Notice almost daily since 2006. And his Understanding Latin American Politics podcast is one of few other Latin America podcasts in English.

Listen above, or download the mp3 file.

WOLA Podcast: Searching for Mexico’s Disappeared

With two very good guests in two parts of Mexico, I’m really glad the technology held up on this one. It was well worth the high-wire act.

Here’s the text of the summary at wola.org. Listen above, or download the .mp3 file here.

More than 60,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006. As a March 23 WOLA commentary by Maureen Meyer and Gina Hinojosa notes, the current government is taking some initial steps to address the crisis. A great deal, however, remains to be done, and victims’ groups trying to locate the disappeared continue to work very much on their own.

To discuss the crisis and Mexico’s incipient efforts to address it, Meyer and Hinojosa are joined by two guests from the frontlines of Mexico’s fight to locate and identify the disappeared. Mariano Machain is the international advocacy coordinator at SERAPAZ Mexico, a non-governmental organization working for peace and positive transformation of social conflicts. Lucy Díaz (seen in a December 2019 ABC News Nightline feature) is a leader of Colectivo Solecito, a group of mothers searching for the disappeared in Veracruz state; her son Luis disappeared in 2013.

WOLA Podcast: “There are 15,000 people waiting without access to asylum”

Savitri Arvey of the University of California at San Diego’s U.S.-Mexico Center has co-written a series of reports documenting U.S. authorities’ two-year-old practice of “metering” asylum seekers along the Mexico border, forcing them in precarious conditions in dangerous Mexican border towns for weeks or months at a time.

The quarterly reports that Arvey and colleagues at the University of Texas’s Strauss Center produce are an essential source for understanding the number of people waiting, the number whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection allow to cross and petition for asylum, who is running the “waiting lists” on the Mexican side of the border, and what risks asylum-seeking families face wile they wait.

With the current COVID-19 border closure, Arvey says, U.S. authorities aren’t letting anybody cross to ask for asylum, which is a violation of the United States’ international law commitments, and probably of U.S. law.

Listen above, or download the mp3 here.

WOLA Podcast: “Beyond the ‘Narco-State’ Narrative”

I’ll be going back to an interview format for tomorrow’s podcast (if all goes according to plan). Today’s episode, though, is the audio track of a March 20, 2020 WOLA webinar about criminality and corruption in Venezuela, and the viability of a political exit to the crisis. This event is based on a March 11 report by WOLA’s Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, who look at U.S. data and find that drug trafficking and other criminality and corruption, while big problems, are not so severe as to rule out negotiating a political solution with the Maduro regime.

In this event audio, Ramsey and Smilde are joined by Jeremy McDermott, the co-director of InsightCrime, and investigative journalist Bram Ebus, a consultant to the International Crisis Group.

Listen above, or download the mp3 file here.

Podcast: Peru’s Anti-Corruption Reform Drive

Four podcasts in four days. I don’t know if I’ll keep up the pace, but I’ll stay close. Hopefully these are making life a bit more tolerable for some people out there.

In today’s conversation, Cynthia McClintock of George Washington University gives an overview of the current political moment in Peru, where an ongoing anti-corruption drive, spurred by the good work of investigative reporters and prosecutors, has been a relative good news story. The discussion also covers recent legislative elections, voters’ move, and the possible impact of COVID-19.

Dr. McClintock is the author of many books and articles, including Electoral Rules and Democracy in Latin America, published in 2018 by Oxford University Press and the subject of a November 2018 podcast.

The podcast is above, or download the mp3 directly.

“Guerrilla Marketing” in Colombia

Here, at the WOLA Podcast, is a conversation with Alex Fattal, whose 2018 book “Guerrilla Marketing” tells the story of the Colombian military’s employment of advertising campaigns to convince guerrillas to demobilize during the country’s armed conflict. His work explores the overlap between national security, global capitalism, and “branding.”

The podcast is above, or download the mp3 here.

Colombia podcast with Toby Muse

Here’s today’s WOLA Podcast. We should have some going up tomorrow and Friday as well.

Toby Muse spent almost two decades as a foreign correspondent in Colombia, where he traveled to dozens of places affected by the war on drugs and recorded innumerable conversations with people—participants in the drug trade, officials, reformers, and victims caught in the middle. His new book, Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels – From the Jungles to the Streets, draws heavily from all of his conversations. It comes out on March 24, 2020.

The podcast is above, or download the mp3 here.

Here Come the WOLA Podcasts

Everybody we know is home and on the internet, being “socially distant” for the good of society. Why not start recording conversations with them?

I usually put WOLA’s podcast out 1-2 times per month because my schedule is full and so are those of anyone I’d want to interview. I often spend as much time on the e-mail back-and-forth arranging the episodes as I do recording them.

Not so now. I recorded two today, and have two more scheduled just this week. Here’s the first one:

WOLA Senior Fellow Coletta Youngers and Senior Program Associate Teresa García Castro discuss their February 28 report about women coca and poppy growers in Bolivia and Colombia. It was published with three other organizations from around the region: the International Drug Policy ConsortiumDejusticia, and the Andean Information Network.

The roles played by women in coca and opium poppy producing zones get little attention: they’re often portrayed as passive victims. As Youngers and García Castro explain, women who grow these crops are in fact subjects who lead community organizing, fight for access to land titles, carry out much unpaid labor, and must contend with violence. Development won’t happen without them as partners.

Listen up top, download the mp3 here, and subscribe to the WOLA Podcast wherever you find your podcasts.

WOLA Podcast: How Corruption Continues to Erode Citizen Security in Central America

Here’s a podcast recorded last Friday with Adriana Beltran and Austin Robles from WOLA’s Central America / Citizen Security program. We talk mostly about setbacks to the anti-corruption fight in Guatemala and Honduras. Good thing we didn’t talk about El Salvador too much, because two days after this conversation, President Nayib Bukele set everything on fire there by bringing armed soldiers into the legislative chamber with an aggressive display.

I learned a lot about what’s happening just by hosting this. Here’s a direct download link.

Here’s the blurb on WOLA’s website.

Adriana Beltrán and Austin Robles of WOLA’s Citizen Security Program discuss the beleaguered fight against corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their Central America Monitor tracks progress on eight indicators and closely watches over U.S. aid.

WOLA Podcast: What the State of the Union Means for Latin America

It’s great to have a new digital communications person on staff: podcasts are now starting to come out quickly, without me having to initiate and edit them. Yesterday, the morning after Trump’s State of the Union, Lizette Alvarez sat three of us down to talk about the president’s several mentions of issues we work on.

The podcast mp3 file is here. Here’s the blurb from WOLA’s page:

Our team recorded a roundtable discussion at WOLA the morning after this year’s State of the Union, focused on what the president’s words and actions mean for human rights and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Adam Isacson (Director for Defense Oversight), Maureen Meyer (Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights), Geoff Ramsey (Director for Venezuela) and Marguerite Rose Jiménez (Director for Cuba) discuss the appearance of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the president’s comments on Cuba, and the toxic business-as-usual attitude towards migrants and immigration policy.

WOLA Podcast: A Week on the Border

While in El Paso last week, I recorded a podcast with WOLA’s new director for digital strategy, Lizette Alvarez. (The first time I’ve been the interviewee instead of the interviewer!)

Here, at 6:30am in my hotel room, I talk about what we’d been seeing and hearing in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. You can almost hear the coffee start kicking in as the interview proceeds.

Here’s the descriptive text from WOLA’s podcast page:

The U.S. policy of “Remain in Mexico”, building the border wall, and the overall criminalization of Central American migrants and asylum seekers has produced a number human rights, economic, security, and administrative consequences on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. During the week of January 20th, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) staff and partners visited El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in order to observe and document the state of migration and migrant rights at the border.

This interview was conducted with Adam Isacson, WOLA Director for Defense Oversight, in the early morning hours after a number of visits with U.S. Border Patrol, migrant shelters, and civil society partners who work on behalf of migrant rights.

To learn more about the latest developments on the border and migrant rights, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our email newsletter.

WOLA Podcast on Venezuela: New Year, New Political Tumult

For Venezuela, 2020 began with new political turmoil, as the Maduro government maneuvered to take over the presidency of the opposition-majority National Assembly.

Will this backfire for Maduro? Can the opposition maintain unity? Are negotiations toward new elections feasible? Is the U.S. government sending a coherent message? What about other international actors, like the EU and Russia? Geoff Ramsey, WOLA’s director for Venezuela, explains this moment and potential solutions.

WOLA Podcast: Protest and Politics in Post-Conflict Colombia

In this podcast, recorded this afternoon, I talk about Colombia with my longtime WOLA colleague Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli. She explains Colombia’s four-week-old wave of social protests, and we talk about the continuing challenge of peace accord implementation, and efforts to protect social leaders. She also covers what we saw and heard during October field research in the historically conflictive, and still very tense, regions of Arauca and Chocó.

(mp3 download)

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