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

At What is Latin America’s Political Turmoil Doing to Civilian Control of the Military?

If you follow Latin America, do you feel like you keep seeing the same photo over and over again?

I talk about that in a new commentary that went up on WOLA’s website today:

A president—usually one with low approval ratings—announces a politically risky or unpopular move, often a crackdown on social protests or dissent. To give the announcement more weight and menace, the president issues it while surrounded by uniformed military officers. The subtext is “the military is with me on this”—even if the message is a political one that doesn’t fall within the military’s responsibilities.

It’s part of a larger trend of “the pendulum… swinging back, fast, in the militaries’ direction. It probably won’t go so far back that Latin America re-enters an age of military juntas holding total power. It’s hard, though, to see where or how far it will go.”

Latin America may not be headed back to the age of coups. But it might not be democracy, either. This piece looks at five worrying trends, including an unhelpful U.S. role. Read it here.

The Colombian military plotted to murder a demobilized guerrilla. Will there be accountability?

The Colombian newsmagazine Semana, known over the years for excellent investigative reporting, came under fire in May for sitting on a story about the new high command’s demand that military officers produce higher “body counts,” which the New York Times instead picked up as a front-page bombshell. Since then, Semana has come roaring back with a series of alarming revelations—most of them based on information leaked from military officers themselves—about corruption within the armed forces, evasion of accountability for human rights abuse, and a general pullback from promising post-conflict reforms.

Semana’s latest revelation about out-of-control behavior in the Colombian military is a shocker. Part two of a two-part series, published October 27, details the military’s April 22 killing of Dimar Torres, a farmer and former FARC militia member, in the conflictive and strategic Catatumbo region, near the Venezuela border. About 167 demobilized FARC members have been killed since the November 2016 peace accord’s signing, but Torres is the only demobilized fighter known to have been killed by the armed forces.

Soldiers dig a grave in an illustration, by Angélica María Penagos, for Semana’s investigation of Dimar Torres’s murder.

The killing of Torres, a father-to-be who cared for his elderly parents, was big news in Colombia at the time. Word of the military’s responsibility got out because residents of his village, in the municipality of Convención about 10 minutes from a 40-man army post, had seen soldiers searching a worried-looking Torres at a checkpoint, and later heard shots fired. A contingent of villagers found soldiers digging a large hole near the grounds of the base. Then they found his body on the ground, shot four times. The community members took videos of their search and of their confrontation with the soldiers, which were widely shared on social media. (Thank heaven for smartphones.)

At the time, the Colombian defense sector’s response was contradictory: both hopeful and worrisome. Civilian authorities began investigating Corporal Daniel Eduardo Gómez Robledo, the alleged killer. General Diego Luis Villegas, the commander of the “Vulcan Task Force” charged with securing Catatumbo, went to Torres’s home village and said the right thing. “Not just any civilian was killed, a member of the community was killed, members of the armed forces killed him. That’s why the commander should come and show his face. I regret it in my soul. In the name of the 4,000 men I have the honor to command, I ask your forgiveness.”

(Gen. Villegas, by the way, is a complicated individual. He faces a currently suspended arrest warrant for commanding a unit that committed a “false positive” extrajudicial killing of a mentally disabled man in 2008, which makes it odd that he would have been put in charge of military operations in a high-stakes territory like Catatumbo, which has a strong presence of the ELN, FARC dissidents, and the EPL, a local splinter guerrilla group. In August, Semana revealed that in a January meeting Gen. Villegas had said, “The Army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over.… If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.”)

The apology and the prosecutorial moves were good. But other responses were not. Colombia’s independent Noticias Uno network revealed an audio in which a fellow general insulted Villegas for asking forgiveness: “If you’re so upset, then retire and go join the guerrillas, so the military forces can have the honor of chasing you down and getting you out of there.”

Worse, Colombia’s maximum security authority after the president, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero—who has come under much criticism for irresponsible statements in the past—upheld the story offered by Corporal Gómez, the alleged killer of Dimar Torres. “This corporal affirms that he found this person [Torres] and that this person tried to take his gun away.” “I don’t see the motive in causing a homicide of a person whom the corporal doesn’t know, whom he surely hadn’t seen in his life.” “If there was a homicide, then there must have been some motive for it.”

And now this week Semana has reported, with extensive proof from prosecutorial investigations, that this was not a case of a rogue corporal. It goes up to the lieutenant colonel in charge of his entire battalion. And Defense Minister Botero is on the wrong side of the truth.

The armed forces’ Vulcan Task Force, commanded by Gen. Villegas and responsible for security operations in Catatumbo, was established in early 2018. It has eight battalions with about 500 personnel in each. One of these eight, the 11th Land Operations Battalion, was commanded earlier this year by Lt. Col. Jorge Armando Pérez Amézquita.

At the beginning of April, three weeks before Dimar Torres’s murder, troops in the 11th Battalion were carrying out an operation to protect the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline, a frequent target of guerrilla bombings. During this operation, near Torres’s home village, a soldier stepped on a landmine or hidden explosive device, which killed him.

Semana reports that the soldier’s death enraged Lt. Col. Pérez, the battalion commander. The senior officer ordered his subordinates to get revenge, even if it means breaking the law. “I don’t need to report anything. What I need is to get revenge for the death of the soldier, we have to kill,” he allegedly said, based on soldiers’ testimonies to Colombia’s prosecutor’s office (Fiscalía).

Corporal Gómez, the accused killer, told the Lieutenant-Colonel that he believed Dimar Torres was responsible for the landmine. Without any evidence, he reported that Torres, the farmer and demobilized guerrilla, was an explosives expert with the ELN guerrillas.

Lt. Col. Pérez, Corporal Gómez, and other soldiers formed a WhatsApp group called “Dimar Torres” to coordinate their surveillance of the ex-guerrilla and their plans to execute him extrajudicially. “We don’t have to capture this man, we have to kill him so he doesn’t get fat in jail,” Lt. Col. Pérez wrote to this WhatsApp group, whose texts are now in prosecutors’ possession. The group shows that the soldiers were closely tracking Dimar Torres’s movements and routines, posting photos, over the last three weeks of his life. “All this without a judicial order,” Semana notes.

On the afternoon of April 22, Corporal Gómez told 2nd Lieutenant John Javier Blanco, the commander of the small military post near Torres’s village, “I’m going to kill Dimar.” Within hours, he and perhaps others had intercepted Torres’s motorcycle and shot him to death.

Later, Corporal Gómez radioed Lt. Col. Pérez to tell him he had killed Dimar Torres. The Lieutenant-Colonel ordered him not to say such things on the radio, but to use WhatsApp instead. “What did the son of a bitch say?” Lt. Col. Pérez asked the group. He went on to order the corporal to keep a close eye on the other members of Dimar Torres’s community, who had confronted the soldiers and found the body: “Check up on them, because they’re next,” he wrote menacingly.

The Lieutenant-Colonel also instructed Corporal Gómez to use radio communications to give a false story about what happened. This false narrative, in which Torres supposedly tried to wrest Corporal Gómez’s weapon from him, was amplified and repeated by Defense Minister Botero’s statements before the press.

Today, Lt. Col. Jorge Armando Pérez Amézquita stands accused by civilian prosecutors for the crime of homicide of a protected person. But the case is moving slowly: his lawyers’ delaying tactics are working.

Lt. Col. Pérez’s lawyers filed a motion to move his case to the military justice system, which is only supposed to judge “acts of service” and has a terrible record of failing to punish human rights violations. While the civilian and military courts work out their jurisdictional dispute, Lt. Col. Pérez and other soldiers accused of killing Dimar Pérez are at large, out of preventive detention.

Semana’s revelations about the Dimar Torres case could hardly be more alarming, for at least three reasons. First, they show a military that had been making important human rights progress reverting, brutally, to old behaviors. Second, this plan to victimize a former guerrilla will give pause to thousands of other guerrillas who willingly disarmed, many of whom may abandon the peace process if they feel vulnerable to attack from the very armed forces that are supposed to protect them. Third, this episode happened in Catatumbo, one of Colombia’s most violent, ungoverned, and strategic regions, where winning a deeply distrustful population’s confidence should be the government’s number-one mission. Overcoming distrust is why Gen. Villegas’s visit to Torres’s community, where he publicly recognized responsibility for the killing, was so crucially important.

That something as monstrous as the plot against Dimar Torres could take place and remain covered up demands accountability from Colombia’s highest defense authorities. Nonetheless, as Semana reports, “Minister [of Defense] Guillermo Botero remains in his post, and his declarations about Dimar’s case weren’t the object of any disciplinary measure.… The Defense chief hasn’t retracted his statements, nor has he apologized to Dimar’s family for his declarations.” In June, opposition legislators sought to censure Botero for these and other statements, but lacked the votes to do so.

Defense Minister Guillermo Botero continues in his post. The photo is from a story in La Silla Vacía explaining why that is.

“This isn’t the moment to speak of Minister Botero’s renunciation,” President Iván Duque said after Semana published these revelations. So Colombia’s defense sector, badly adrift at the moment, continues to be led by Guillermo Botero, an archconservative who has called for crackdowns on peaceful protest, downplayed the seriousness of a wave of social leader killings, and absurdly blamed the post-conflict transitional justice system for a failure to arrest recidivist guerrilla leaders.

This week, Botero remains under fire for events in the tumultuous department of Cauca, in southwestern Colombia. First, community members in Corinto municipality alleged that the Army tortured and killed local campesino leader Flower Jair Trompeta; Botero caused outrage by claiming, before an investigation could take place, that Trompeta died in “a military operation.”

Then, on October 29 in Tacueyó municipality, assailants—probably FARC dissidents—massacred an indigenous leader and her unarmed guards. This incident shone a light on the Defense Ministry’s failure to consult with Cauca’s indigenous communities about their protection. Botero and others in the Duque government have insisted that the military be given free rein to patrol indigenous reserves, but these communities have strong memories of soldiers being accompanied by paramilitaries and want another arrangement. Instead of consulting, Botero’s Defense Ministry has left these communities badly unprotected in a zone where several armed and criminal groups operate.

How can a defense minister hang on for so long after presiding over so many backward steps for Colombia’s armed forces? Guillermo Botero survives, the investigative journalism website La Silla Vacía contends, because he is “a chess piece” for former president and current Senator Álvaro Uribe, the founder and most prominent member of President Iván Duque’s political party. As long as he has the hard-right former president’s favor, Guillermo Botero appears safe in his office regardless of questions of competence, and apparently President Duque can’t do much about it.

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 on Latin America

The ties between the U.S. government and Colombia’s armed forces “are like the heart of this [bilateral]  relationship,” said outgoing U.S. ambassador Kevin Whitaker, in his last interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo. “They are very dear to us and very professional. There are elements of the Police and the Armed Forces that have a 21st-century character and are among the best in the world.”

Let’s leave aside how troubling it is that an ambassador in any country might say that the military relationship is more central than the diplomatic, commercial, or cultural relationships. Is the latter part of Whitaker’s statement true? Have Colombia’s armed forces—especially its army, which makes up 84 percent of all military personnel—become a professional twenty-first century force, among the world’s elite?

For much of this decade, Colombia’s military seemed to be headed in that direction. Accusations of extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations plummeted after 2008. High-ranking officers participated honorably in the peace talks with the FARC, and about 2,000 current and former soldiers agreed to participate in the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. The armed forces developed a forward-looking new doctrine as they sought to adapt to a future, for the first time in decades, without a large-scale national-level insurgency. NATO agreed to include Colombia as a “global partner.” A new, post-“false positives” generation of mid-level officers, with years of training in much-improved military colleges, appeared to place a much higher value on human rights, international humanitarian law, and measuring results through territorial legitimacy. While some concerns persisted, especially allegations of espionage against participants in the peace process, the overall trajectory had been positive. 

Then came 2019, which has been an annus horribilis for Colombia’s Army. The high command that new President Iván Duque put into place came under immediate attack from human rights groups for their past proximity to “false positive” killings a decade earlier. The ultraconservative new defense minister made repeated statements minimizing the severity of killings of social leaders and calling for crackdowns on social protests. And then, scandals started to hit.

On May 18, the New York Times revealed that, at the beginning of the year, the Army’s new high command had taken a leap backward in time, bringing back “body counts” as a principal measure of commanders’ effectiveness. After years of seeking to measure progress by measures of security and state presence in territories from which government had long been absent, the new commanders decided to seek something simpler. Unit commanders were instead required to sign forms committing themselves to a doubling of “afectaciones”—armed-group members killed or captured—in their areas of operations. While this signaled a return to a long-discredited territorial stabilization strategy, it also raised major human rights concerns about creating incentives for “false positives.” Already, Colombian media had been gathering reports about increased abuses, and abusive behavior, at the hands of military personnel in 2019.

July saw the Army buffeted by corruption scandals, including selling permits to carry weapons and misuse of funds meant for fuel and other needs. The scandals, mostly revealed by Semana magazine, have so far led to the firing of five Army generals, one of them imprisoned, and the jailing of nine more soldiers. One of the generals fired under a cloud of corruption allegations was the Army’s number-two commander, Gen. Adelmo Fajardo. Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán, meanwhile, revealed that Gen. Fajardo allegedly arranged to have his favored staff sergeants approved for officer training, even though they were not the most qualified candidates.

Non-commissioned officers, “the base of the Army, are furious,” Duzán reported. “There is a sense that too many generals are occupied more with benefiting from the perks of power than with serving the country, and that good soldiers and good officers are being left without power in the hierarchy, defeated not by a strategic enemy, but because they don’t want to participate in the feast of corruption.”

Duzán reveals something important here. The scandals that have buffeted Colombia’s Army this year have not originated from the work of human rights defenders or reporters. In all cases, the source of the information has been outraged members of the Army. That is new. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when the Army stood accused of working with paramilitary groups or committing extrajudicial executions, the sources were almost always victims, witnesses, or prosecutorial investigators. Now, the chief source is whistleblowers from within the institution: officers and soldiers who love the Army, believe that it has made important progress, and are deeply worried about the direction it is taking under current leadership.

On the other side is the “old guard,” at times allied with powerful retired officers, who opposed peace negotiations, resisted recent reforms, and who apparently believe that the key to victory is to lift commanders from the apparent burdens of accountability. Emblematic of that attitude is a January quote, revealed by Semana, and attributed to Gen. Diego Villegas, the commander of the military task force responsible for the conflictive Catatumbo region:

The Army of speaking English, of protocols, of human rights is over. What we have to do here is takedowns. And if we have to ally ourselves with the Pelusos [the EPL guerrillas] we will ally with them—we already talk to them—in order to fight the ELN. If we need to carry out hits, we’ll be hitmen, and if the problem is money, then there’s money for that.

We must hope that this quote is false, or at least that the number of “old guard” officers who really think this way is small. We must also hope that the high command—Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, Army Chief Gen. Nicacio Martínez—is not inclined toward the “old guard.” If they are, and if this faction is large, then Ambassador Whitaker’s sunny portrayal of today’s Colombian military is a sad caricature.

The high command’s handling of these scandals gives us even greater reason for worry. Instead of pledging to clean house, protect whistleblowers, and demand the most honorable behavior of all officers, the Army’s counter-intelligence apparatus has been deployed on an internal campaign of polygraphs, surveillance, and interrogations to identify those who have leaked to the press. Gen. Martínez, the army chief, has denied knowledge of what Semana calls “Operación Silencio,” but the Procuraduría has unearthed evidence that his denials are false: that the General in fact ordered the witch hunt. The Army’s botched damage control effort has done harm to the institution’s credibility at a critical moment.

And this is a critical moment. The number of armed groups, and armed group members, continues to proliferate in regions of former FARC influence. Homicides increased for the first time in six years in 2018, and if they are slightly down in 2019, as a new report from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation points out, it is only because criminal groups have secured dominance in some zones, or made accords with competitors in other zones. If Colombia’s security forces were achieving important security gains, it is likely that public opinion would overlook some of these scandals. But they are not making gains. “We see a paralysis of the military forces with regard to security at the territorial level,” the Foundation’s Ariel Ávila noted, citing ongoing scandals and strategic drift under President Duque and Defense Minister Botero.

Much can be done about this, immediately. While the Duque/Uribe government will always have a conservative high command, it is possible for that high command to be simultaneously conservative, competent, and institutionally forward-looking. Such officers must be identified and promoted.

It is meanwhile imperative that whistleblowers within the armed forces be given maximum protections. They are our best source of “early warning” about the institution’s direction. Colombia’s Congress, courts, and Public Ministry must maintain their protection from retaliation as a high priority.

And finally, the U.S. government, the Colombian Army’s most important international counterpart, must do more than just sing the Army’s praises. It must keep its eyes wide open and voice concerns about backsliding, whether publicly or privately, in strong terms. The U.S. Congress must maintain conditions in foreign aid law that freeze some assistance pending progress on human rights. These are the best ways to ensure that Colombia’s armed forces can once again move toward Ambassador Whitaker’s idealistic description of them.

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, region-wide. And they gave me 45 minutes to do it. And then they produced this high-quality video, showing all 77 of my slides and sign language for the hearing-impaired. Very impressive.

I think I did a decent job here. The video is in Spanish, with optional closed-caption subtitles (again, very impressive).

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 populists just can’t resist. It’s impossible to miss that Mexican generals find themselves in the middle of this mess, just as U.S. generals face a similar fate: their troops deployed to the border and facing the possibility of Trump declaring a fake national emergency to divert funds and Defense Department personnel for a useless wall.… Enamored of men in fatigues, hungry for the automatic discipline of military hierarchy, they reliably break down the democratic norms needed to keep the military apolitical and under civilian control.

Every so often, I look back at a commentary I wrote for the Center for International Policy about Venezuela in September 1999, just before my 29th birthday. Today, it only exists on the Internet Archive. I made the same argument that Toro and Bosworth are making. Months into Hugo Chávez’s first year in office, I was worried about how the new populist leader was distorting the military’s role in Venezuela’s democracy.

Much has been made of Chávez’s populist politics and fiery rhetoric, with many observers speculating that the former paratrooper is leading a slow-motion coup, doing away with forty-one years of flawed democracy and ushering in a military dictatorship by popular acclaim. Actually, Chávez’s strong-armed – yet so far legal – effort to write the country’s twenty-seventh constitution poses little threat to Venezuela’s democracy, which desperately needs reform anyway.

The real threat lies in the president’s vision for the Venezuelan military. In just seven months in power, Chávez has enormously increased the armed forces’ role in government and society.

… President Chávez’s changes in the military are popular, but among all of his reform efforts they are the most likely route to dictatorship. They are the aspect of Chávez’s program that needs to be watched most closely by Venezuelans, by the media and by the international community.

I look back on that piece not only because I still agree with every word. Now that Venezuela is a full-blown dictatorship with military officers occupying many top positions, that article is also a source of anxiety for me. I wonder what would be different today if I’d stuck with this issue and made Venezuelan militarization a top priority for my work, instead of a back-burner trend on which I checked in every so often.

I didn’t throw myself into this issue because at that exact moment—September 1999—the Clinton and Pastrana administrations were drawing up “Plan Colombia,” the largest U.S. military aid program in the history of Latin America. Monitoring and trying to change that strategy would take up the majority of my time over the next 10 years. In September 1999, Colombia was also in the first months of a peace process with the FARC. And the funding climate for Venezuela civil-military relations work was bleak: it would have been hard to afford plane tickets to Caracas, much less devote hours per week to the issue.

But still. While I worked to limit the Bush administration’s damage in Colombia, right next door Venezuela’s regime was dismantling democracy and civil-military relations through a gradual but inexorable string of baby steps, many of them too small even to get attention in the United States. While I was consistently critical, I didn’t host events and delegations, write reports, or lobby Congress.

Now that we’ve got several authoritarians around the region pursuing similar models (including Donald Trump), I wonder what I could’ve done differently, what difference it would’ve made, and how to apply those lessons today.

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 that have the most to do with defense and security: the military, the police, and the justice system. When citizens are asked whether they trust these institutions, the poll shows a huge variation across countries.

Also interesting is the gap, in percentage points, between trust in the armed forces and trust in the police.

Perhaps it makes sense that the police, which are in more regular contact with the population, would be consistently lower. But this is a big problem, because it feeds calls to send the military into the streets to perform crimefighting roles that should be up to civilians.

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

El Salvador



  • Claudio Lomnitz, ¿el Ejercito Es Pueblo en Armas? (La Jornada (Mexico), November 21, 2018).

    Andrés Manuel López Obrador ha dicho que como el Ejército es pueblo armado, nunca tirará contra del pueblo. Cabe preguntar entonces: ¿contra quién disparará?

  • Alejandro Hope, No Maten a la Policia Federal (El Universal (Mexico), November 19, 2018).

    Hay tareas que hoy realiza la PF que sería demencial trasladar a un cuerpo militar. Por ejemplo, retirar bloqueos en carreteras. ¿Quiere el gobierno de AMLO enviar a soldados y marinos contra manifestantes?

  • Ricardo Ravelo, ¿y las Finanzas del Crimen? (SinEmbargo (Mexico), November 16, 2018).

    En realidad las policías, en su mayoría, están “cartelizadas”, es decir, al servicio de los grupos criminales

  • Alejandro Hope, Un Plan Sin Razones para la Tranquilidad y el Optimismo (El Universal (Mexico), November 15, 2018).

    El plan apuesta por una salida abiertamente militar a los dilemas de seguridad pública. Se plantea la creación de un cuerpo militar (la Guardia Nacional), ubicado administrativamente en la SEDENA, para atender de manera permanente asuntos de policía

U.S.-Mexico Border

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

Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images photo at The New York Review of Books. Caption: “Former army captain and far-right frontrunner for the Brazilian presidency Jair Bolsonaro posing with soldiers, São Paulo, May 3, 2018”


  • Brian Winter, Meet the New Brazil. A Lot Like the Old Brazil. (Americas Quarterly, October 4, 2018).

    Bolsonaro now seems on the verge of becoming Brazil’s next president. He no longer wears his uniform, but make no mistake: He is the modern-day heir to Brazil’s long tradition of soldiers in power

  • Beatrice Christofaro, Marcelo Silva de Sousa, Peter Prengaman, In Brazil Congress, Bolsonaro’s Record Thin; Army Was Focus (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 2, 2018).

    The Associated Press reviewed and categorized all 642 legislative filings by Bolsonaro since he entered Congress in 1991

  • Rodrigo Zeidan, The Looming Military Coup in Brazil? (Americas Quarterly, September 28, 2018).

    Bolsonaro seems to be paving the way, directly or indirectly, for a coup d’état or an authoritarian regime backed by the military. He enjoys ample support among the military’s rank and file

  • Andres Schipani, Joe Leahy, Contradictions Expose Brazil Election Frontrunner’s Soldier Image (The Financial Times (UK), September 18, 2018).

    Mr da Silva, his former childhood friend, summed it up. Mr Bolsonaro was Brazil’s version of Mr Trump, a social media Pied Piper gathering diverse disgruntled followers from across the web


  • Proponen Sala para En Jep (El Nuevo Siglo (Colombia), September 27, 2018).

    “Las salas especiales”, explicó a su turno la senadora Paloma Valencia, son para que los “miembros de la Fuerza Pública sean juzgados con garantías

  • Cecilia Orozco Tascón, Autor de Falsos Positivos, Invitado de Lafaurie-Cabal (El Espectador (Colombia), September 20, 2018).

    Portando uniforme militar, en gesto de desafío que ofende a las Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia, el coronel Mejía departió, whisky en mano, con personajes del alto mundo social capitalino

  • María Jimena Duzán, Sin Pudor (Semana (Colombia), September 17, 2018).

    Sin sonrojarse, Montoya quiere convencernos de que los responsables de los falsos positivos fueron unos cuantos soldados rasos, que actuaron como una rueda suelta y que asesinaron a miles de colombianos sin que sus comandantes se hubiesen dado cuenta

  • Javier AlexÁnder MacÍas, Victimas Exigieron la Verdad a Montoya (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), September 14, 2018).

    El general (r) Mario Montoya acudió a la JEP donde se le recordaron los compromisos que adquiere al someterse a esta justicia especial. El magistrado aplazó la audiencia hasta nueva fecha


  • Sandra Cuffe, Guatemala’s Army Breaks Ranks With President Over Court Ruling (Al Jazzeera, October 2, 2018).

    “The army has to obey civilian rule and the Constitution, and the authentic interpreter of the Constitution is the Constitutional Court. So, what the army is saying regarding the court is what is right”

  • Iduvina Hernandez, Un Presidente a la Fuerza (Plaza Publica (Guatemala), September 14, 2018).

    El miércoles 12, el presidente necesitó rodearse una vez más del Ejército. Esta vez, soldados de la Guardia Presidencial con boinas kaibiles y fusiles de asalto rodearon el palacio legislativo


  • Faustino Ordonez Baca, Militares y Policias No Seran Beneficiados por la Amnistia (El Heraldo (Honduras), September 24, 2018).

    Los militares y policías quedarán fuera de la amnistía porque así lo pidieron ellos, aunque en un principio el Partido Nacional y el sector gobierno habían solicitado incluirlos


  • Ezequiel Flores Contreras, La Legalizacion de la Amapola Podria Ser una Salida al Problema de la Violencia: Cienfuegos (Proceso (Mexico), October 5, 2018).

    “Aquí lo único que se debe de tratar es la seguridad de los campesinos que ya no van a vender a los delincuentes, sino al gobierno, para hacer la morfina que se usa para atender el dolor en los pacientes”

  • Luis Hernandez Navarro, Amlo, el Ejercito y el 68 (La Jornada (Mexico), October 2, 2018).

    Es muy delicado involucrar a las fuerzas armadas en funciones de policía. Buena parte de las violaciones a los derechos humanos que la milicia ha cometido son resultado, en mucho, de su acción en tareas de seguridad pública

  • Arturo RodrÍguez GarcÍa, Nueva Comision para el Caso Ayotzinapa No Investigara al Ejercito: Encinas (Proceso (Mexico), September 27, 2018).

    La comisión especial recién anunciada para investigar la desaparición de los 43 estudiantes de la normal de Ayotzinapa no tiene como línea de investigación al ejército mexicano, anticipó hoy Alejandro Encinas, anunciado como próximo subsecretario de Gobernación

  • Abel Barrera Hernandez, Ayotzinapa: En el Corazon de la Patria (Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, La Jornada (Mexico), September 27, 2018).

    Las corporaciones policiales y el mismo Ejército forman parte de los ejecutores de estas acciones violentas que tienen como móvil destruir un proyecto educativo que ha sido la cuna de la conciencia social



U.S.-Mexico Border

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

(All the coverage I saw last month was about Mexico.)

Hugo Cruz photo at Proceso (Mexico). Caption: “Protesta contra la Ley de Seguridad Interior.”


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 (SCJN) aún debe revisar

Federal officials say it is a last-ditch effort to bring peace to Acapulco, once a glamorous resort favored by Hollywood celebrities that has become one of the most murderous cities on Earth

Mexico is no closer to creating the effective local police forces that experts agree will be crucial to any effort to control soaring levels of violence

La Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos concluyó que el Ejército Mexicano y la policía estatal de Puebla incurrieron en violaciones graves, con acciones como la siembra de pruebas en los cadáveres de dos inocentes, y el atropellamiento de dos civiles

“No crime should be fought with another crime,” the commission said

Un grupo de soldados estuvo presente ayer afuera de la Facultad de Estudios Superiores (FES) Acatlán, de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, acompañando una acción de las autoridades del estado de México para detener a dos menores de edad

74% de los entrevistados calificó como “útiles” las labores de patrullaje de estas dependencias federales en el combate al crimen organizado y la inseguridad del país

A huge setback for civil-military relations in Guatemala

Reuters photo in The Guardian (UK). Caption: “Jimmy Morales addresses the media flanked by military and police.”

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 institution. It brings back the bad old days.

Here’s an excerpt. The whole thing is here.

In the widest-angle photo available online of Morales’s defiant August 31 announcement, 75 people appear in the frame, including Morales. Sixty-eight of them are in uniform; at least fifteen wear the maroon beret of the Army’s feared Kaibiles Special Forces. The clear message: the high command supports Morales’s move against the CICIG in the strongest terms. Sixty officers standing behind the president is more than just checking a box to comply with an order from the commander in chief.

Even more blatant was a show of military force outside CICIG’s headquarters on the morning of the 31st. A convoy of military transport vehicles, helmeted gunners poised at their machine-gun turrets, drove through the CICIG’s prosperous, well-guarded Guatemala City neighborhood and circulated several times around its offices. Vehicles pulled up outside the U.S. embassy and those of other countries known to support CICIG, and near the homes and offices of prominent human rights defenders.

These vehicles were donated to Guatemala through U.S. Defense Department accounts legally authorized only to help the military and police interdict drugs or combat organized crime. Some bear the title “Trinational Task Force,” denoting a unit, created with U.S. assistance, meant to operate at Guatemala’s borders, far from the capital. At four points along Guatemala’s borders, military-police-prosecutorial Interagency Task Forces, created with over US$40 million in aid from the Defense Department’s Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime account, have been operating since 2013. The Pentagon has provided them with hundreds of vehicles like these.

…Unless something changes soon, the Guatemalan armed forces’ aggressive support for Jimmy Morales’s rollback of anti-corruption reforms has set their institution on a path back to its darkest periods. It extinguishes a hopeful moment in which Guatemala’s Army, with U.S. government accompaniment, took a few halting steps toward legitimacy.

It goes on like that.

The Army’s Role in the Anti-CICIG Backlash is a Severe Setback for Guatemala’s Civil-Military Relations

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


When questioned by a journalist about Mourao’s speech, the head of the army, Eduardo Villas Boas described him as a “great soldier” and insisted that the military has a constitutional right to “intervene” if Brazil is “on the edge of chaos”

De acordo com o general, estamos “nos infelicitando, diminuindo nossa autoestima e alterando nossa identidade”. Acrescentou que o país “não consegue vislumbrar um projeto para o seu futuro”


Las Fuerzas Armadas se resisten a abrir sus archivos y el poder económico y político de los defensores de la dictadura siguen presentes mientras las víctimas reclaman justicia


El general (r) Mario Montoya acudió a la JEP donde se le recordaron los compromisos que adquiere al someterse a esta justicia especial. El magistrado aplazó la audiencia hasta nueva fecha

El exalto oficial no reconocerá su responsabilidad en los casos de falsos positivos con los que lo han relacionado ni va a pedir perdón a las víctimas

Una alerta de inteligencia militar de Ecuador en abril de este año los delató

El documento, denominado ‘Génesis’, incluye un detallado análisis y recopilación de las infracciones al DIH cometidas por la extinta guerrilla en medio del conflicto armado interno

La Comisión de la Verdad, la cual había solicitado información reservada sobre manuales y política militar desarrollada durante el conflicto armado

En una decisión sin precedentes, Fernando Carrillo decidió abrir procesos contra tres altos oficiales, en medio del escándalo de desvío de fondos reservados y el presunto espionaje ilegal al interior del Comando de las Fuerzas Militares


El miércoles 12, el presidente necesitó rodearse una vez más del Ejército. Esta vez, soldados de la Guardia Presidencial con boinas kaibiles y fusiles de asalto rodearon el palacio legislativo


La relación de López Obrador con las fuerzas armadas ha sido polémica al menos desde 2016, pues su posición, respecto de la militarización desde el sexenio del panista Felipe Calderón, incomodó a los mandos castrenses


Desde el juzgamiento a los miembros de la cúpula militar que formaron parte de la organización criminal que dirigió Vladimiro Montesinos durante el gobierno de Alberto Fujimori, hacía tiempo que no se condenaba por actos de corrupción a tantos oficiales de alta graduación

U.S.-Mexico Border

The partnership between US Marines and US Border Patrol is part of a long standing effort by Joint Task Force-North, a DoD task force based in Fort Bliss, Texas


El presidente de Uruguay, Tabaré Vázquez, explicó que el comandante en jefe del Ejército, Guido Manini Ríos, estará en arresto riguroso por 30 días por opinar sobre un proyecto de ley que impulsa su gobierno


El hecho ocurrió la madrugada del sábado y fue ejecutado por agentes de la Fuerza de Acciones Especiales (FAES) de la Policía Nacional de Venezuela en varios edificios de la zona residencial de Fuerte Tiuna

The Trump administration’s willingness to meet several times with mutinous officers intent on toppling a president in the hemisphere could backfire politically

In an era of smartphones and encrypted apps, the request for radios struck other Venezuelan observers as absurd

The military dissidents declined to participate. They found the civilians unprofessional and weren’t interested in killing Maduro. Their goal was to capture him and put him on trial

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

Photo from El Heraldo (Honduras). Caption: “A partir de septiembre la Policía Militar y la Policía Nacional con sus fuerzas especiales van a trabajar de manera coordinada con la nueva unidad de Anti Maras y Pandillas.”

Western Hemisphere Regional

the administration has an opening this week to demonstrate commitment to our core principles by stating its opposition to the militarization of law enforcement, which represents a challenge to liberal democracy across much of Latin America


El acto, realizado en la localidad de Huacalera, Jujuy, ofició como inicio formal del operativo Fronteras Protegidas y fue una oportunidad para que el mandatario exhiba la nueva doctrina de seguridad


“Isso não é uma profecia. É uma conclusão. Ao se defrontar com o criminoso, a tendência da polícia, por falta de meios, era se omitir”

Those allegations included killing and leaving the bodies of several young men in a forest atop the complex of slums

The action lasted over 14 hours, leaving one dead, dozens of injured and thousands of angry citizens

Human rights groups have criticized the intervention, saying it’s disproportionately impacting people, particularly blacks, in poor neighborhoods

The measure put thousands of soldiers in the streets and increased operations against drug-trafficking gangs that largely operate in poor areas. But some say it has not helped to address underlying issues

Brazil, Venezuela

Between January and June, there were 27.7 homicides for every 100,000 people in Roraima, a poor state in northern Brazil on the border with Venezuela


El presidente Juan Orlando Hernández anunció que en septiembre próximo se iniciarán operativos conjuntos de la Policía Militar del Orden Público (PMOP), la Policía Nacional y la Fuerza Nacional Anti Maras y Pandillas (FNAMP)


Lo que debería ser el foco de atención no es lo que dijo López Obrador sobre los militares, sino lo que no dijo sobre las policías

Sobre la presencia de las fuerzas armadas en las calles, dijo que el próximo secretario de Seguridad, Alfonso Durazo, ya había anunciado que “en tres años vamos a proceder a retirar al Ejército”

La declaración que hizo el presidente electo, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, de dejar intacta la estrategia de seguridad, generó preocupación en el colectivo #SeguridadSinGuerra

AMLO se pronunció, por un lado, con ambigüedad (no usar la ley para reprimir movimientos sociales) respecto de las amplias atribuciones militares con la aprobación y vigencia de la LSI

Recomendó “tener un plan cierto, conocido por la población para que esa transitoriedad sea eso y no permanencia”

Advirtieron que si no hay un plan de retiro paulatino de las fuerzas castrenses, se repetirían los graves abusos y violaciones que han ocurrido en los últimos dos sexenios

El tabasqueño sostuvo que su gobierno cuidará que marinos y militares respeten los derechos humanos del pueblo y no reprimirlo

Latin American civil-military relations: links from the past month

Western Hemisphere Regional

the administration has an opening this week to demonstrate commitment to our core principles by stating its opposition to the militarization of law enforcement, which represents a challenge to liberal democracy across much of Latin America


Las nuevas amenazas afectan especialmente algunas vulnerabilidades del Estado, ya sean estas deficiencias en los controles migratorios, la indulgencia ante tráficos ilegales, o la complicidad con actores violentos. Y ellas no se neutralizan con una fuerza armada

La primera cuestión que debe definirse con precisión, ya que el decreto no la aborda, es qué significado y alcance tiene el concepto de “apoyo logístico” provisto por las Fuerzas Armadas a las fuerzas de seguridad

“We know that this transformation won’t be easy,” Macri said. “Profound changes are never easy. But this is the first step to build the modern, professional and equipped armed forces that Argentina needs”

Como parte de los nuevos roles, tendrán también como misión la participación en la “custodia y protección de los objetivos estratégicos”


Last year, Mourao controversially expressed support for a military intervention into politics in order to clean up Brazil’s mounting social problems

A intervenção federal na Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro deve ir até 31 de dezembro, mas os militares já planejam a transição para o que virá depois

If the ballot box does not bring change quickly enough, some prominent former generals warn that military leaders may feel compelled to step in and reboot the political system by force###


En una decisión sin precedentes, Fernando Carrillo decidió abrir procesos contra tres altos oficiales, en medio del escándalo de desvío de fondos reservados y el presunto espionaje ilegal al interior del Comando de las Fuerzas Militares


The court rejected the defense attorneys’ claims that the court was acting on the basis of ideological biases, and/or hatred of or feelings of revenge toward the armed forces


El ingeniero Francisco Herrera fue interceptado cuando conducía a su trabajo, en la ciudad de Tampico, Tamaulipas, en 2015; sus teléfonos registraron actividad en coordenadas que corresponden exactamente con la ubicación del Campo Militar Número 1


The military dissidents declined to participate. They found the civilians unprofessional and weren’t interested in killing Maduro. Their goal was to capture him and put him on trial

“Maduro is facing a divorce with the armed forces, which is apparent in the various rebellions that have taken place in recent months,” Borges said

Saab identified the two detained officers as Col. Pedro Zambrano Hernandez and Gen. Alejandro Perez Gamez of the National Guard

U.S.-Aided Units in Honduras

As a likely election theft proceeds in Honduras, the country’s security forces are playing a central role in putting down protest. Since the U.S. government has closely supported the Honduran military and police since the cold war, we need to know whether U.S.-aided units are backing authoritarian behavior and abusing protesters’ rights.

Here is a list of security-force units that we know have received U.S. assistance since 2015.

Units in red have been actively confronting protesters demanding a fair and transparent vote count, according to media reports and communications with sources inside Honduras. (Others may be equally involved, but information hasn’t confirmed it.) Source documents for the recipient unit list are linked at the bottom of this post.

Update 12:00 December 5: media are reporting that the U.S.-aided TIGRES and COBRAS units are refusing to participate in further suppression of protest. While I don’t know whether this is a nationwide phenomenon or how long it will last, for now I’m switching those units from red to black in the list below.

Recipients of U.S. Assistance

  • Honduran National Police
    • National Police Special Forces (TIGRES)
    • National Police Special Operations Command (COBRAS)
    • National Police NAGU (National Anti-Gang Unit)
    • National Police Tactical Special Operations Group (GOET)
    • National Police Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit (TCIU)
    • National Police Intelligence Unit (SERCAA)
    • Special Investigations Unit (SIU)
    • Distrito Policial 6-1
    • Chamelcon, Cortés Unit
    • Unidad Metropolitana Prevención (UMEP-5)
    • Policía Preventiva (UMEP-6)
    • Policía Preventiva (UMEP-7)
    • Dirección Nacional de Policia Preventiva, San Pedro Sula Unit
  • Honduran Navy
    • Naval Special Forces (FEN)
  • Honduran Air Force
  • Public Ministry Technical Criminal Investigative Agency (ATIC)

Not Recipients of U.S. Assistance

  • Military Public Order Police
  • Honduran National Interagency Security Force (FUSINA) —though some units assigned to FUSINA are in the above “aid recipients” list
  • Special Units for Jungle and Night Operations (TESON)

 An April 2017 Defense Department response to a congressional inquiry reads, “No support provided has been provided to Military Police for the Public Order (PMOP), Special Units for Jungle and Night Operations (Teson). No support has been provided to Honduran National Interagency Security Force (FUSINA). FUSINA may request support from any unit within the Honduran Military, National Police, Attorney General’s office, and other investigative and law enforcement agencies. Therefore, any unit within the Honduran Military could feasibly be called upon to participate in FUSINA.”

Source Documents

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