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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Civil-Military Relations

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” […]

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Notes on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Annual Report

(Cross-posted at On February 25 the Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its annual report on the human rights situation in Colombia. It is a very useful document, full of hard-to-obtain statistics. It also makes some reasoned, high-credibility judgments about controversial topics like implementation of the peace accord […]

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Slides from today’s talk about “militarization” in Latin America

The Historical Memory Project at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice invited me to be on a panel this morning about the “military-industrial complex” in Latin America today. I explained that the “M.-I.C.” is not a term I use very often these days. Instead, I worry about “militarization”: the […]

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Loyalty to whom?

On the left, Mexico. On the right, El Salvador. Both from yesterday. Both wrong. A military swears its loyalty to the Constitution and the law. It obeys the orders—and only the legal orders—of the president serving as commander in chief.

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The Colombian Army’s Very Bad Year

Here’s an English translation of a column I wrote for the Colombian political analysis website Razón Pública, which it posted today. It voices strong concerns about Colombia’s military, especially its army, which has been showing signs of institutional backsliding all year. The Colombian Army’s Very Bad Year Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office […]

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Video of my long talk, in Mexico, about “militaries as police”

Many thanks to Mexico’s Universidad Iberoamericana, who along with several other groups organized a May 21-22 conference in Mexico City on the need for civilians to be in charge of security, at a time when it is militarizing throughout Latin America. They asked me to give a talk about citizen security and the military’s involvement, […]

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I was right about Venezuela in 1999—but I didn’t do enough about it.

Francisco Toro and James Bosworth, founders of two of the longest-running Latin America blogs (Caracas Chronicles and Bloggings by Boz, respectively), have a good column on the Washington Post website today, warning about how authoritarian populist leaders—right or left—screw up their countries’ delicate civil-military relations. There seems to be something about men in uniform that […]

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Trust in security institutions across Latin America

All credit here goes to the Chile-based Latinobarómetro polling organization, which carries out an annual public-opinion survey in most of Latin America and the Caribbean. The 2018 poll (PDF) is a fascinating read. For an upcoming presentation, I wanted to know what the poll said about how Latin Americans are viewing the three government institutions […]

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Links from the Past Month about “Soldiers as Police” in Latin America

El Salvador Juan Carlos Diaz, “FAES no reportó delitos en escuelas donde dio seguridad” (La Prensa Grafica (El Salvador), November 12, 2018). El comandante saliente de la sede militar de La Unión rindió un informe sobre las acciones ejecutadas por el personal a su cargo Vanessa Jurado, “Así será el despliegue de policías y militares […]

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Civil-military relations in Latin America: links from the past month

Brazil “Brazil’s Authoritarian Without an Army” (The Economist (Uk), October 11, 2018). Soldiers are not itching for power. More likely, they would restrain Jair Bolsonaro David Noriega, “Brazilian Politics Is Backsliding Toward Militarism, and the Presidential Election Could Make It Worse” (VICE, October 5, 2018). Though Brazil has always had ultra-nationalist hardliners, what makes this […]

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Links from the past month about “Soldiers As Police” in Latin America

(All the coverage I saw last month was about Mexico.) Mexico Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, “Magistrados Reviven la Ley de Seguridad Interior” (Proceso (Mexico), September 27, 2018). Un tribunal colegiado de la Ciudad de México validó la entrada en vigor de la Ley de Seguridad Interior (LSI), aunque la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación […]

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A huge setback for civil-military relations in Guatemala

I was disappointed to see Guatemala’s military—which had briefly taken a reformist direction—aggressively, enthusiastically supporting President Jimmy Morales’s crackdown on the CICIG anti-corruption body. WOLA has just posted a piece I wrote about that. What’s happened with Guatemala’s army since August 31 obliterates a few halting steps that it had taken toward being a credible, accountable […]

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