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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Corruption

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.

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: Alan García’s legacy in Peru

Here’s a great conversation with two colleagues who really know Peru, about where the country is today after the suicide of a two-time president facing accountability for corruption.

Facing arrest in a corruption scandal, Peru’s two-time president Alan García shot himself to death on April 17. WOLA Senior Fellows Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers discuss the personal journey of a politician who loomed over Peruvian political life for the past 35 years.

Garcia started out as a leftist, ruled amid some serious human rights crimes and economic crises, and later became a seemingly untouchable power broker—until the Odebrecht corruption investigation.

Burt and Youngers explain Peru’s current judicial drive against corruption, reasons for hope, and the difficulty of predicting anything in Peruvian politics.

WOLA Podcast on Guatemala’s “backlash of the corrupt”

Only a few years ago, Guatemala was making historic gains in its fight against corruption and human rights abuse. Since then, the country has suffered a severe backlash. A “pact of the corrupt” in Guatemala’s ruling elite keeps pushing legislation that would terminate trials and investigations for war crimes and corruption. A U.S.-backed UN prosecutorial body, the CICIG, has been weakened. High-court rulings are being ignored. Things have gotten so bad that the U.S. government has suspended military aid.

And today, Guatemala has incredibly surpassed Mexico as the number-one nationality of undocumented migrants being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

As a new presidential election looms, Adam talks about the situation with WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt, just returned from one of her frequent visits to the country. See more of Jo-Marie’s recent analysis at:

Download the podcast mp3 file directly

Corruption in Latin America: Links from the past month

Brazil

Central America Regional

  • Victoria Sanford, ‘Criminals?’ Hardly. That’s Who the Caravan Flees. (The New York Times, November 9, 2018).

    Cruelty won’t solve the current refugee crisis. Neither will buddying up with authoritarian leaders in Central America. Instead, those two strategies only deepen the crisis

Colombia

  • Cecilia Orozco Tascón, El “Testamento” del Testigo Pizano en Caso Odebrecht (El Espectador (Colombia), November 14, 2018).

    Hoy creo que es mi deber ético transcribir —aunque parcialmente— las reflexiones que, a modo de testamento, Jorge Enrique Pizano dejó en mi teléfono, probablemente sabiendo que yo las publicaría. Estas son algunas

  • Joshua Goodman, New Allegations That Colombia Prosecutor Covered Up Bribes (Associated Press, The Washington Post, November 14, 2018).

    U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker in September called Colombia’s handling of the Odebrecht case “the best in the world, by far” and attributed its success to the dedication of Martinez’s office

  • Los Secretos del Escandalo de las Chuzadas (Semana (Colombia), November 6, 2018).

    SEMANA tuvo acceso a más de 200 folios con las declaraciones de dos de los principales protagonistas del tema. Su contenido revela la impresionante dimensión de esta red de espionaje ilegal

  • Adriana Puentes, Julian Amorocho Becerra, 2.488 Policias Investigados en el Pais ¿Que Delitos Cometen? (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), November 6, 2018).

    En los últimos dos años, de agosto de 2016 a la fecha, la Fiscalía General de la Nación involucró a 2.488 miembros de la Policía en investigaciones criminales

Ecuador

  • Ministerio de Defensa Intenta Depuracion en Fuerzas Armadas a Traves de Leyes (El Universo (Ecuador), November 14, 2018).

    El ministro de Defensa Oswaldo Jarrín anunció el envío de nuevas leyes a la Asamblea Nacional para volver más estrictos los requisitos de ingreso a las Fuerzas Armadas, dados los últimos acontecimientos de militares vinculados a narcotráfico y tráfico de municiones

Guatemala

  • La Crisis Politica y el Retroceso Democratico (Plaza Publica (Guatemala), November 9, 2018).

    El análisis persigue identificar algunas relaciones causales de la crisis democrática que tiene lugar en Guatemala y sus implicaciones en las aspiraciones de bienestar humano

Honduras

Mexico

  • 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

Peru

Corruption in Latin America: links from the past month

Jeff Abbott photo at Al Jazeera. Caption: “An indigenous woman holds a sign in front of the Ministry of the Interior offices in Santa Cruz del Quiche, calling for an end to corruption in Guatemala”

Argentina

  • Former Argentine President Acquitted of Arms Smuggling (Associated Press, The New York Times, October 4, 2018).

    “The same judicial branch that processed the case for 22 years without a firm sentence, now declares Menem innocent because too much time has passed”

Colombia

  • Jim Mustian, Joshua Goodman, Dea’s Colombia Post Roiled by Misconduct Probes (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 3, 2018).

    Prior to Bogota, Dobrich oversaw the DEA’s military-style FAST teams that battled drug traffickers in Afghanistan and Latin America, and were criticized for a series of fatal shootings in Honduras in 2012

Guatemala

  • Hector Silva Avalos, 4 Consequences of Morales’ War With the Cicig in Guatemala (InsightCrime, September 21, 2018).

    On September 16, at a press conference where the CC judges read their decision in favor of the CICIG, an undercover police officer attempted to photograph journalists who were covering the event

  • Francisco Goldman, Why Is Trump Tacitly Supporting Corruption in Guatemala? (The New York Times, September 21, 2018).

    His government is backed by a so-called juntita of retrograde military officers and a bloc in the Guatemalan Congress derisively known as “el pacto de corruptos”

Honduras

Mexico

  • Maria Verza, Mark Stevenson, Mexican Students Massacred by Army in 1968, by Gangs Today (Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 1, 2018).

    Today’s student activists — and even the graying veterans of the 1968 democracy movement — acknowledge they now have free speech, something the ‘68 generation fought for. But they say the impunity remains the same

U.S.-Mexico Border

Venezuela

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

Links from the past month about organized crime-related corruption

Colombia

Para el alto tribunal, los homicidios de la exalcaldesa del municipio de Barrancas, Yandra Brito, su esposo y su escolta no tienen relación con el conflicto armado

Un senador involucrado, un general encarcelado y decenas de empresarios y compañías en la mira forman parte del nuevo capítulo, que no será el último

Desde los narcocasetes de 1994 al último capítulo que tiene en aprietos al general (r) Humberto Guatibonza y otros exoficiales de la Policía

La Fiscalía tiene interceptaciones en las que los supuestos protagonistas del entramado de chuzadas hablan del secuestro de los periodistas ecuatorianos, de bloqueos de cuentas bancarias y hasta de casos de infidelidad

Guatemala

On September 16, at a press conference where the CC judges read their decision in favor of the CICIG, an undercover police officer attempted to photograph journalists who were covering the event

His government is backed by a so-called juntita of retrograde military officers and a bloc in the Guatemalan Congress derisively known as “el pacto de corruptos”

Acompañado por el alto mando militar y solo tres ministros de su gabinete (Gobernación, Defensa y Exteriores), en una imagen que recordaba a las épocas más represivas de la guerra civil, Morales dijo que había notificado a la ONU que no renovaría el mandato

Honduras

Valladares —who was a regional commander of the special criminal investigations unit (Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal – DNIC) in San Pedro Sula— committed murder for the once powerful Cachiros drug trafficking organization

La captura de seis policías activos en los últimos dos meses es una muestra de que en la institución siguen las “manzanas podridas” a pesar del proceso de depuración

Mexico

ProPublica’s reporting detailed that the Mexican SIU had a yearslong, documented record of leaking information to violent and powerful drug traffickers

State authorities and military personnel took control of security in the municipality of Tehuacán in central Puebla state, disarming 205 municipal police officers on the force

Nicaragua

Authorities in Costa Rica arrested an alleged leader of an international drug trafficking organization while he was dining with the son of a Nicaraguan Supreme Court magistrate

U.S.-Mexico Border

A Texas National Guard soldier who is part of the state’s border protection buildup has been accused of stealing from U.S. Customs and Border Protection methamphetamine that federal agents had seized

Corruption in Latin America: links from the past month

Argentina

The investigation was begun after the newspaper La Nación obtained notebooks belonging to a driver who took meticulous notes about bags of cash he purportedly ferried around the city

Colombia

Funcionarios públicos como notarios, registradores y jueces se alían con los criminales para amenazar a los campesinos y obligarlos a vender a precios muy por debajo del valor real de los predios

Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gould, assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, was arrested after Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 40 kilograms of cocaine in two backpacks on a military airplane in Colombia

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 Salvador

Su confesión es una ventana a estructuras de corrupción que van más allá de su presidencia y sus lujos, y debe dar lugar a investigaciones que lleguen mucho más lejos

Saca, who was arrested in 2016, had made a deal with the Attorney General’s Office: If he confessed, he would face a lighter sentence

Guatemala

The circle is nearly closed. Jimmy Morales, who won power precisely because of his predecessor’s corruption, is now facing down accusations that he committed some of the same transgressions. It was a biblical lesson he apparently missed

The move has quelled doubts about Porras’ independence and further isolated Guatemala’s embattled president

The Pérez Molina and Baldetti government clearly understood that in order to be in politics and make money in Guatemala, corrupt politicians and businessmen use what they call “quotas of power,” or favors, which open doors to contracts and government benefits

Powerful Guatemalan politicians and businessmen accused in the investigations have been repeatedly trying to undermine the CICIG and stop the investigations against them and their allies, including through recent overtures to Washington

On July 4, the Interior Ministry withdrew 20 officers assigned as security to the facilities and personnel of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

Honduras

Nájera’s response to the move by the US Congress fits into a broader pattern of elites accused of corruption trying to muddy the waters by impugning the reputations of others

Mexico

Half of the 10 retired or active officers who agreed to speak to Al Jazeera, admitted that in their force some sort of quota system existed

Peru

Desde el 7 de julio, unos audios dejaron al descubierto que en vez de administrar justicia, unos jueces y fiscales se habían dedicado a delinquir

Links from the past month about organized crime-related corruption in Latin America

Detail of a graphic from Periódico Central demonstrating how politically connected criminals routinely steal gasoline from the pipelines of Mexico’s state oil company in Puebla.

(I say “organized crime-related” to distinguish this kind of corruption from its slimy, tawdry, but usually less-deadly cousin, “graft.”)

Colombia

In his latest column, the security analyst goes over some of the historical ties between opposition leader and former president Álvaro Uribe’s supporters and organized crime, and notes that even today Uribe’s party has introduced legislation that would help criminals keep land that they have massively stolen.

Honduras

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, an extradited leader of Honduras’s Cachiros drug-trafficking organization, has been implicating many Honduran politicians while testifying to a New York court. These include the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández and the son of the previous president, Porfirio Lobo.

Mexico

U.S. agents acting on a federal indictment arrested Edgar Veytia, alias “Diablo,” the chief prosecutor of Nayarit state and member of the governing PRI party, for trafficking heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. Nayarit is featured as the home state of the “Xalisco boys” heroin-trafficking ring in Sam Quiñones’s excellent 2015 book Dreamland.

Officials from the recently elected government of the U.S. border state of Chihuahua recognized that, during the previous governor’s term, many municipalities’ police forces and local officials passed into the complete control of organized crime and narcotrafficking. This is especially so in the state’s northeast (a dangerous zone near the Texas border east of Ciudad Juárez) and in the Sierra Tarahumara mountains. The ex-governor, Javier Corral, fled to Texas last week in a questionable attempt to evade corruption allegations.

This investigation looks at collusion between government officials and organized crime in the state of Puebla, east of Mexico City, where the practice of stealing gasoline from the national oil company’s pipelines is widespread.

Venezuela

A series of monographs detailing links between the state and organized crime in Venezuela. Found via a March 22 English overview by InsightCrime, which summarizes a January monograph by Mildred Camero, a former Venezuelan judge and “drug czar.” Camero argues that 2005 and 2010 reforms giving the armed forces a greater role in investigating and combating drug trafficking ended up corrupting them to the extent that they now control most large-scale smuggling.

Ugly calls for military rule in Brazil

Brazil saw a new round of protests yesterday in favor of aggressive anti-corruption measures. But as the New York Times’ Dom Phillips notes, they were not only smaller than in the past, they were harder to the right in their politics.

[M]any marchers in Rio de Janeiro said they would vote in the 2018 election for Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right lawmaker from the city who has praised dictatorship-era torturers and attacked gay rights.

In a December 2016 poll by the Datafolha polling institute, 9 percent said they would vote for Mr. Bolsonaro in some scenarios.

Most disturbing are these photos from the Brazilian magazine Veja of protestors holding placards calling for the country’s military, which ruled brutally between 1964 and 1985, to re-intervene in politics.

Protest sign reads "SOS Forcas Armadas!!! Salve o Brasil desses Bandidos!!!"

Protest sign reads "Eu Quero Intervencao Militar Ja"

 I don’t know what this guy’s message is. Great outfit, though.

Guy in a Brazilian Captain America outfit

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