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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Drug Policy

New piece at Razón Pública

Many thanks to Hernando Gómez Buendía, Daniela Garzón, and the staff at Colombia’s Razón Pública for inviting me to submit a column about last week’s meeting between Trump and Colombian President Iván Duque. If you prefer Spanish, el artículo, titulado “La reunión de Duque con Trump: entretenida pero improductiva,” se puede leer aquí. Below is the version I wrote in […]

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Last Month’s U.S. Government Reports Relevant to Latin America

Vice Admiral Craig S. Faller, Advance Questions for Vice Admiral Craig S. Faller, USN Nominee for Commander, United States Southern Command (Washington: Senate Armed Services Committee, September 25, 2018). Written answers to questions submitted by the Senate Armed Services Committee to the nominee to head Southern Command. CBP Has Not Ensured Safeguards for Data Collected […]

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Ouch, this statement did not age well.

This is William Brownfield, then the assistant secretary of state for narcotics and law enforcement affairs, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 2, 2017: Tranche one in this four-stage Colombian strategy was the southwest. Down in Tumaco and the province of Nariño. We are unable to support that because the FARC has, […]

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The Past Week in Colombia’s Peace Process

(Week of September 9-15) ELN Talks Remain Suspended In his August 7 inaugural speech, President Iván Duque said that he would take 30 days to decide whether to continue peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. That period has expired, and Duque did not end the talks—but he has suspended them pending the […]

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Last month’s U.S. government reports relevant to Latin America

Mexico – Evolved Seasparrow Missiles (Washington: Defense Security Cooperation Agency, August 9, 2018). The President must notify Congress of any pending Foreign Military Sale of defense articles or services exceeding $50 million, of design and construction services exceeding $200 million, or any major defense equipment exceeding $14 million. Southwest Border Migration FY2018 (Washington: U.S. Customs […]

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Video: “The Origins of Cocaine” book event

Here is video of yesterday afternoon’s WOLA event with Paul Gootenberg and Liliana Dávalos of Stony Brook University. They’re the editors of The Origins of Cocaine, a new book that finds a striking overlap between today’s South American coca-growing areas and the zones where governments carried out failed development and colonization projects 50 years ago. […]

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24 years of coca and eradication in Colombia

Over the years I’ve been inadvertently building a big collection of “graphs that need periodic updating, which makes them more complicated.” This one depicts coca cultivation in Colombia, and efforts to eradicate it, since 1994. There are two measures of coca cultivation, from the United States and the UN. Eradication has mostly occurred through aerial spraying […]

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A fatal dose is smaller than Abe Lincoln’s head

From DEA’s December 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment. From GAO’s April 2018 report on synthetic opioids. Here are similar photos from U.S. government reports, the left from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2016 and the right from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2018. They show estimates of a lethal dose of […]

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Coca in Colombia: what are the options?

Revised 9:00AM on 4/29/18: I added two more options to the table based on a suggestion from Twitter user @gabrielvc. Colombia’s government, faced with record-high levels of coca cultivation, is considering using drones to spray herbicides over the fields. This is less indiscriminate and risky to public health than spraying from aircraft, a program the […]

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“Colombia doesn’t know which Trump it will have to face”

Here’s an English translation of a long and wide-ranging exchange with journalist Cecilia Orozco, which ran in Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper this morning. It was a good opportunity to explain (and vent about) the current state of U.S.-Colombian relations. If you prefer Spanish, haga clic aquí. “Colombia doesn’t know which Trump it will have to face”: Adam […]

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Honduras went zero-for-100 in 2016

“The number of inbound flights to Honduras allegedly trafficking cocaine dropped 30 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to estimates from the United States government,” reads a letter to the New York Times editor, published yesterday, from the Honduran Presidency’s minister and adviser for strategy and communication. But what happens when flights or boats suspected of […]

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Some troubling/horrifying excerpts from the Honduras IG report

It’s taken me 2 1/2 months, as it was one task among many. But I’ve now given a close read to all 400 pages of the report on DEA activities in Honduras that the State and Justice Departments’ inspectors-general put out on May 24. It discusses three incidents in 2012 involving an elite DEA team […]

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The U.S. government’s strident approach to Colombia’s coca boom

The “answers” in this imagined dialogue are direct quotes from Wednesday’s Senate testimony of Amb. William Brownfield, the longtime assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs. This “imagined conversation” format is a bit goofy, but it illustrates how knotted and constrained the U.S. approach to coca is right now. Q: Colombia’s […]

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UNODC’s Colombia coca estimate is out

On July 14 the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released (PDF) its 2016 estimate of coca cultivation in Colombia (the dark blue line). It shows a lower estimate than the U.S. government’s (the green line), but a sharper rate of increase over 2015. UNODC identified four reasons for the increase: Some coca farmers “have […]

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