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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Government Reports

Government reports relevant to Latin America obtained in May

  • Latest edition of a regular CRS report on political developments, issues with U.S. foreign policy, and events in selected countries.
    Mark P. Sullivan, June S. Beittel, Nese F. DeBruyne, Peter J. Meyer, Clare Ribando Seelke, Maureen Taft-Morales, M. Angeles Villareal, Latin America and the Caribbean: Issues in the 116th Congress (Washington: Congressional Research Service, May 21, 2020) https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46258.
  • Latest edition of a regular CRS report on developments in Cuba and U.S. policy concerns.
    Mark P. Sullivan, Cuba: U.S. Policy in the 116th Congress (Washington: Congressional Research Service, May 14, 2020) https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R45657.
  • The GAO discusses how well (or poorly) the State Department and USAID have monitored and evaluated programs to Mexico under the “Mérida Initiative” aid package. This report does not report comprehensively on all aid to Mexico.
    U.S. Assistance to Mexico: State Department Could Improve its Monitoring of Mérida Initiative Projects (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 12, 2020) https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-388.

Government reports relevant to Latin America obtained in April

  • Latest edition of a regular CRS overview of Mexican politics and economics, U.S.-Mexican relations, and assistance. Good U.S. aid numbers.
    Clare Ribando Seelke, Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations (Washington: Congressional Research Service, April 29, 2020) https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R42917.
  • Latest edition of a regular CRS overview of Honduran politics and bilateral relations with the United States.
    Peter J. Meyer, Honduras: Background and U.S. Relations (Washington: Congressional Research Service, April 27, 2020) https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL34027.
  • The Government Accountability Office found that Customs and Border Protection wildly overspent on a tent facility to house apprehended migrants during late 2019.
    U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Management of a Temporary Facility in Texas Raised Concerns about Resources Used (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 9, 2020) https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-321R.

Government reports relevant to Latin America obtained in March

  • The State Department’s annual report on other countries’ counter-drug efforts, with some information about U.S. aid.
    2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (Washington: Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, March 2, 2020) <PDF from https://www.state.gov/2020-international-narcotics-control-strategy-report/>.
  • Intricately detailed tables of the status of aid to Central America between 2013 and 2018, from a GAO performance audit.
    U.S. Assistance to Central America: Status of Funding (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 4, 2020) <PDF at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-163R>.
  • Two GAO reports about the Homeland Security Department’s processing—and cruel separating—of apprehended migrant families.
    Southwest Border: Actions Needed to Address Fragmentation in DHS’s Processes for Apprehended Family Members (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 18, 2020) <PDF at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-274>.
    Southwest Border: Actions Needed to Improve DHS Processing of Families and Coordination between DHS and HHS (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 18, 2020) <PDF at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-245>.

Government reports relevant to Latin America obtained in February

  • The State Department’s 2021 foreign aid request to Congress, with much 2019 aid numbers.
    Congressional Budget Justification Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Fiscal Year 2021 (Washington: U.S. Department of State, February 11, 2020) <PDF from https://www.state.gov/fy-2021-international-affairs-budget/>.
  • The annual report to Congress from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (the successor to the old U.S. Army School of the Americas).
    WHINSEC Fiscal Year 2019 Report (Fort Benning: Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, January 29, 2020) <PDF at https://fliphtml5.com/vdwkj/eyga/basic>.
  • Customs and Border Protection’s annual data dump of the previous year’s statistics on migrant apprehensions, staffing, migrant deaths, and a few other items.
    Fiscal Year 2019 Stats and Summaries (Washington: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, February 11, 2020) <Combined PDF file I assembled from documents at https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/media-resources/stats>.
  • The Defense Department’s explanation of how it will move $3.8 billion out of its budget to pay for border-wall building because Trump declared an “emergency” last year.
    Support for DHS Counter-Drug Activity Reprogramming Action (Washington: U.S. Department of Defense Comptroller, February 13, 2020) <PDF at https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/execution/reprogramming/fy2020/reprogramming_action/20-01_RA_Support_for_DHS_Counter_Drug_Activity.pdf>.
  • Customs and Border Protection’s 2021 budget request to Congress.
    U.S. Customs and Border Protection Budget Overview Fiscal Year 2021 Congressional Justification (Washington: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, February 11, 2020) <PDF at https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/6_u.s._customs_and_border_protection.pdf>. See also the Acting Commissioner’s February 27 testimony to House appropriators.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 2021 budget request to Congress.
    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Budget Overview Fiscal Year 2021 Congressional Justification (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, February 11, 2020) <PDF at https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/7_u.s._immigration_and_customs_enforcement.pdf>.
  • The Defense Department’s modestly useful, but mostly indecipherable, presentation of its overseas security assistance programs.
    Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 President’s Budget Justification for Security Cooperation Program and Activity Funding (Washington: U.S. Department of Defense, February 4, 2020) <PDF at https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/fy2021_Security_Cooperation_Book_FINAL.pdf>.
  • The White House’s vague, brief “Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy.”
    National Drug Control Strategy Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy 2020 (Washington: Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 20, 2020) <PDF at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-Southwest-Border-Counternarcotics-Strategy.pdf>.
  • The White House’s vague, brief “National Interdiction Command and Control Plan.”
    National Interdiction Command and Control Plan (Washington: Office of National Drug Control Policy, February 20, 2020) <PDF at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-National-Interdiction-Command-and-Control-Plan.pdf>.

Government reports relevant to Latin America obtained in the past month

  • The DEA’s annual overview of principal illicit drug threats.
    2019 Drug Enforcement Administration National Drug Threat Assessment (Washington: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, January 30, 2020) <PDF at https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/2019-NDTA-final-01-14-2020_Low_Web-DIR-007-20_2019.pdf>.
  • The Southern Command’s annual overview of its activities, given in congressional testimony.
    Adm. Craig Faller, Posture Statement of Admiral Craig S. Faller Commander, United States Southern Command Before the 116th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee January 30, 2020 (Miami: U.S. Southern Command, January 30, 2020) <PDF at https://www.southcom.mil/Portals/7/Documents/Posture%20Statements/SASC%20SOUTHCOM%20Posture%20Statement_FINAL.pdf?ver=2020-01-30-081357-560>.
  • GAO finds that the Treasury Department should improve its reporting to Congress about designations of individuals and entities involved in drug trafficking. It finds that the countries with the most kingpin designations worldwide are (1) Mexico, (2) Colombia, and (4) Honduras).
    Counternarcotics: Treasury Reports Some Results from Designating Drug Kingpins, but Should Improve Information on Agencies’ Expenditures (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, January 15, 2020) <PDF at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-20-112>.
  • 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.
    Argentina – Support for EDA P-3C Aircraft (Washington: Defense Security Cooperation Agency, December 19, 2019) <PDF at https://www.dsca.mil/sites/default/files/mas/argentina_19-58.pdf>.
  • A State Department document consisting mainly of statistical tables documenting worldwide arms transfers. Comprehensive, usually a few years behind.
    World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 2019 (Washington: U.S. Department of State, December 2019) <.zip file, or go to https://www.state.gov/world-military-expenditures-and-arms-transfers-2019/>.

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

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 and Border Protection, August 7, 2018).
    Every month since May 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported the number of unaccompanied, undocumented children and family-unit members apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border during the previous month.
  • Southwest Border Security: CBP Is Evaluating Designs and Locations for Border Barriers but Is Proceeding Without Key Information (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, August 6, 2018).
    As the Trump administration seeks to build a border wall based on prototypes constructed in 2017, GAO concludes that Customs and Border Protection “doesn’t have complete information for prioritizing barrier deployments in the most cost-effective manner.”
  • Honduras: Background and U.S. Relations (Washington: Congressional Research Service, July 30, 2018).
    A regular CRS overview of Honduran politics and bilateral relations with the United States.
  • Most Complaints about CBP’s Polygraph Program Are Ambiguous or Unfounded (Washington: Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, July 26, 2018).
    Though only 28 percent of applicants for positions at CBP passed polygraph tests between 2013 and 2016, the inspector-general found that 96% of complaints about the process were unfounded or ambiguous.

The 17 Government Reports About Latin America That I Found Most Useful in 2017

Tracking the U.S. relationship with Latin America’s security forces requires finding credible, citable data. For that, government documents are a goldmine. They’re primary sources, straight from the State and unfiltered through outside journalists or analysts. I find such documents so useful that since 2015 I’ve kept a database of them: those I’ve obtained as well as those I’m trying to get my hands on.

The reports listed here, all issued in 2017, are essential reading for Latin America security nerds. Many suffer from agencies’ blinders, or express policy priorities that I don’t share. But they are still rich in information that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere.

  • A Special Joint Review of Post-Incident Responses by the Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration to Three Deadly Force Incidents in Honduras, Department of Justice and Department of State Inspectors-General, May 24, 2017
    This report’s 400-plus pages discuss three incidents in 2012 involving an elite DEA team assigned to interdict drug traffickers in rural Honduras, an effort called “Operation Anvil.” In all three there was loss of life. In the worst incident, four innocent civilians were killed, including two pregnant women. And DEA was uncooperative when investigators tried to figure out what happened. A devastating report. I highlighted a dozen troubling/horrifying excerpts back in August.
  • Government Police Training and Equipping Programs, Department of Defense, April 1, 2017
    It’s mostly a spreadsheet, but it’s engrossing. It’s a listing of all training events involving foreign police forces in 2015 and 2016. I wish all public reporting of aid was this transparent.
  • Counternarcotics: Overview of U.S. Efforts in the Western Hemisphere, Government Accountability Office, October 13, 2017
    A documentation of $39 billion that U.S. federal agencies spent to counter drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. Some data is confusing—I’m not sure about the categories—and some is surprising. But a lot of it is new, and it’s an essential read.
  • Southwest Border Security: Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fencing’s Contributions to Operations and Provide Guidance for Identifying Capability Gaps, Government Accountability Office, February 16, 2017
    A review of the current use of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the best overview of the existing border wall. 
  • Metrics Developed to Measure the Effectiveness of Security Between Ports of Entry, Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, September 14, 2017
    Congress required the Homeland Security Department to publish “the metrics developed to measure the effectiveness of security between the ports of entry, including the methodology and data supporting the resulting measures.” The report finds, “The southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.”
  • Colombia: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, November 14, 2017
    The first of five CRS reports here. Good overview of Colombia’s conflict and post-conflict challenges, and the history of U.S. aid. Great aid numbers and explanation of the current aid package.
  • Colombia’s Changing Approach to Drug Policy, Congressional Research Service, November 30, 2017
    A look at coca and cocaine production trends in Colombia, the Colombian government’s post-conflict shifts in eradication and interdiction, and how those mesh with U.S. priorities and programs.
  • U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Beyond, Congressional Research Service, June 29, 2017
    A regular overview of U.S. public security, border security, anti-drug, police, and judicial reform assistance to Mexico through the framework established in 2007-2008 by the Mérida Initiative.
  • U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, June 8, 2017
    A periodically updated overview of U.S. assistance to Central America to improve public security and governance.
  • El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, November 3, 2017
    A periodically updated overview of El Salvador’s public security challenges and political situation, with some details about U.S. assistance.
  • Foreign Military Training Report, Department of Defense, Department of State, December 2017
    An accounting of all training of foreign security forces provided by U.S. personnel. Must include totals, dollar amounts, recipient units, units offering training, training locations, and course titles. Much data, however, gets omitted, so don’t consider this report to be comprehensive.
  • Colombia Human Rights Certification, Department of State, September 11, 2017
    Every year, in order to free up a percentage of military aid to Colombia, the State Department must certify that Colombia’s security forces are improving their human rights record. Human rights groups in Colombia dismiss this report as shedding a too-positive light on grave impunity shortcomings. Still, this is one of the most detailed overviews available of the Colombian justice system’s efforts to hold military human rights abusers accountable.
  • Section 2011 Report on Special Operations Forces Training, Department of Defense, April 1, 2017
    A yearly report mainly covering Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), a program that takes U.S. Special Operations Forces on training missions to over 100 countries each year. This is heavily redacted, but looking at earlier versions of the report (here and here) makes it possible to discern patterns in the Special Forces relationship.
  • National Drug Threat Assessment, Drug Enforcement Administration, October 2017
    The DEA’s annual overview of principal illicit drug threats. An important source of information about trafficking patterns. (Gives citable answers to questions like: Where does most cocaine in the U.S. come from? Is it mostly transshipped by air or boats? How does it cross the U.S. border?)
  • International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Department of State, March 2, 2017
    An annual narrative of efforts to reduce illegal drug production and transshipment, including U.S. assistance, in each country that the U.S. government considers to be a major source or transit country. It’s sort of boring and wordy, but a close read is rewarded by numerous bits of information that you don’t find anywhere else. For instance, that U.S. authorities alerted Honduran forces 100 times in 2016 about cocaine shipments headed to Honduran territory—and the Hondurans made zero interdictions.
  • Challenges Facing DHS in Its Attempt to Hire 15,000 Border Patrol Agents and Immigration Officers, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, July 27, 2017
    The IG casts serious doubt on the Trump administration’s loudly declared plans to expand Border Patrol and ICE. It memorably estimates that to increase Border Patrol by 5,000 agents, the agency would need about 750,000 applicants—more than 1 percent of the entire U.S. population between 21 and 35 years of age.
  • Statement of Anthony D. Williams, Assistant Administrator – Chief of Operations, Drug Enforcement Administration before the Senate Caucus on International Drug Control, September 12, 2017
    Of all congressional hearing testimonies I read this year, this one yielded the most clippings in my database because it had the most information I’ve seen in a while about DEA’s operations in the Western Hemisphere.

Here’s an archive of U.S. documents about the border wall

Going back to January 20. Especially important or useful ones are bold.

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

Lessons Learned from Prior Reports on CBP’s SBI and Acquisitions Related to Securing our Border (1.1MB PDF)
Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector-General, June 12, 2017.

The Homeland Security Inspector-General looks at past border wall-building experiences in light of the Trump administration’s proposal to add new fencing.

Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress (1.3MB PDF)
Congressional Research Service, June 8, 2017.

A new update of a regular overview of U.S. assistance to Central America to improve public security and governance.

CBP Continues to Improve its Ethics and Integrity Training, but Further Improvements are Needed (1.6MB PDF)
Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector-General, May 31, 2017.

A report finding that U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which operates in part along the border with Mexico, “misses valuable opportunities to deliver consistent high-quality ethics and integrity training courses across multiple operating environments and components.”

A Special Joint Review of Post-Incident Responses by the Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration to Three Deadly Force Incidents in Honduras (26.3MB PDF)
Department of Justice and Department of State Offices of Inspector-General, May 24, 2017.

A thorough, strongly worded overview of improper activity following 2012 deadly use of force incidents involving DEA and State Department personnel in Honduras.

Congressional Budget Justification for Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (10.8MB PDF)
U.S. Department of State, May 23, 2017.

The State Department’s annual explanation to Congress of how it is using its budget for both diplomacy and foreign assistance. The 2018 request calls for a steep reduction in U.S. aid to the world.

Congressional Budget Justification for Homeland Security (18.8MB PDF)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, May 23, 2017.

The annual budget request submitted to Congress by the Department of Homeland Security. Includes funding requests and justification language for border security programs and border wall-building.

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

From the Congressional Research Service Central America report listed below.

Border Security: Additional Actions Could Strengthen DHS Efforts to Address Subterranean, Aerial, and Maritime Smuggling
U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 1, 2017.

GAO looks at the Homeland Security Department’s efforts to detect and curb these unorthodox methods of smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border, all of which appear to have declined in frequency since 2011.

Central America Regional Security Initiative: Background and Policy Issues for Congress
Congressional Research Service, April 12, 2017

A regular update on U.S. assistance to Central America. This does not reflect the 2017 appropriation that became law on May 5.

Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations
Congressional Research Service, April 25, 2017

A regular update on the main organized crime organizations and dynamics in Mexico, and the strategy being employed to confront them.

Explanatory Statement for Division J of P.L. 115-31, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017
U.S. Congress, May 5, 2017.

The narrative accompanying the 2017 State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Here, Congress directs how a lot of foreign aid money should be spent. I pulled out 13 clips from this report, and 4 clips from the text of the law, that appeared relevant to U.S. security assistance to Latin America. See also the explanatory statement for the 2017 Homeland Security Appropriations bill from which I drew 2 clips (and 3 clips from the law).

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

(These are from my online Latin America-focused government reports library.)

Posture Statement of Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, United States Southern Command, Before the 115th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, April 6, 2017

The Southern Command’s annual overview of its activities, given in congressional testimony. Southern Command manages all U.S. military activity in Latin America and the Caribbean, except for Mexico and the Bahamas.

This report, required by House Armed Services Committee report language accompanying the 2016 defense bill, is a surprisingly rich source of data. It lists thousands of events in which U.S. (or U.S.-aided) personnel trained foreign police in 2015 and 2016.

Building Partner Capacity: Inventory of Department of Defense Security Cooperation and Department of State Security Assistance Efforts
U.S. Government Accountability Office, March 24, 2017

Due to concerns that Defense Department security assistance programs “lack strategic direction, may not act in concert with other programs, and are not resourced for long-term sustainability,” the House Armed Services Committee asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to report on each of these programs’ purpose, legal justification, and funding. This resulting inventory is useful, but out of date, as the 2017 defense bill brought major changes to these programs.

90-day Progress Report to the President on Executive Order 13767: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements
Department of Homeland Security, dated April 25, 2017

A draft memo obtained by the Washington Post, detailing plans for initial border wall construction, deportation procedures, plans for detaining apprehended migrants, looser hiring standards for Border Patrol personnel, and other items. (I turned it into a PDF for easier reading.)

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

Photos of border fencing

Photos from the February 16 Government Accountability Office report on border fencing.

(These are from my online Latin America-focused government reports library.)

Colombia’s Changing Approach to Drug Policy
Congressional Research Service, March 10, 2017

An overview of illicit crop eradication, drug interdiction, the recent history of U.S. counter-drug assistance, and changes likely to come with the 2016 peace accord.

Southwest Border Migration
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, March 8, 2017

Every month since May 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported the number of unaccompanied, undocumented children and family-unit members apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border during the previous month. This report covers February; the January report was released on February 27.

El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations
Congressional Research Service, March 8, 2017

A look at security, migration, and political trends, and recent deliveries of U.S. assistance.

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, March 2, 2017

An annual narrative of efforts to reduce illegal drug production and transshipment, including U.S. assistance, in each country that the U.S. government considers to be a major source or transit country.

Southwest Border Security: Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fencing’s Contributions to Operations and Provide Guidance for Identifying Capability Gaps
United States Government Accountability Office, February 16, 2017

A thorough review of the current use of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Border Security: Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Collection of Unmanned Aerial Systems and Aerostats Data
United States Government Accountability Office, February 16, 2017

Information about Customs and Border Protection’s employment of drone and tethered aerostat technology to detect illicit activity at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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