Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.



Podcast: ¿Dejará De Ser Una Democracia Estados Unidos Si Donald Trump Gana Las Elecciones?

I joined Colombian journalist María Jimena Duzán and former U.S. ambassador to Panama John Feeley on the latest episode of Duzán’s popular Spanish-language podcast.

The episode was a scene-setter for the 2024 U.S. election campaign. Neither John nor I get called on to do a lot of this “election horserace” sort of punditry, but that may have made this a more engaging attempt to explain the current U.S. political moment to a non-U.S. audience.

Podcast: Cartels on the terrorist list? Military intervention in Mexico?

I just sat and recorded an episode of the solo podcast that I created when I started this website six years ago. Apparently, this is the first episode I’ve recorded since July 2017.

There’s no good reason for that: it doesn’t take very long to do. (Perhaps it should—this recording is very unpolished.) But this is a good way to get thoughts together without having to crank out something essay-length.

This episode is a response to recent calls to add Mexican organized crime groups to the U.S. terrorist list, and to start carrying out U.S. military operations against these groups on Mexican soil.

As I say in the recording, both are dumb ideas that won’t make much difference and could be counter-productive. Confronting organized crime with the tools of counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency won’t eradicate organized crime. It may ensnare a lot of American drug dealers and bankers as “material supporters of terrorism,” and it may cause criminal groups to fragment and change names. But the territories were organized crime currently operates will remain territories where organized crime still operates.

Neither proposal gets at the problem of impunity for state collusion with organized crime. Unlike “terrorist” groups or insurgencies, Latin America’s organized crime groups thrive because of their corrupt links to people inside government, and inside security forces. As long as these links persist, “get-tough” efforts like the terrorist list or military strikes will have only marginal impact.

You can download the podcast episode here. The podcast’s page is here and the whole feed is 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.

Things from the past two weeks

I mean to post a link or some other notice to this site whenever I publish something elsewhere. But it has been such a fertile time at work lately, things have gotten away from me and I’ve neglected this space.

In order to catch up a bit, here’s everything I’ve been up to since September 11.




Another resource

Media Quotes

WOLA Podcast: Colombia’s FARC demobilizes, but new challenges await

Here’s a half-hour conversation with Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, WOLA’s senior associate for Colombia.

On June 20, 2017 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ceased to be an armed group. But as Gimena makes clear, the hard part awaits.

In a wide-ranging discussion about the current moment, we discuss next steps in the FARC demobilization, the ominous appearance of armed groups in zones of previous guerrilla influence, recent social protests on the Pacific Coast, Colombia’s ability to implement its accord commitments, civil society’s role in making it happen, and our growing concerns about where the Trump administration is headed.

New WOLA Podcast: An Update on Venezuela with David Smilde

This one is really good. I can see why David Smilde’s analysis appears so often in media coverage of Venezuela.

David is a senior fellow who writes WOLA’s Venezuela blog, teaches at Tulane University and spends much of his time—including the tumultuous last few months—in Caracas.

He doesn’t pass through Washington very often, so it was great to have a chance to grab him with my microphone at our staff retreat. (You can occasionally hear some of our WOLA colleagues in the background.)

This fast-moving interview covers:

  • the risk to democracy posed by President Nicolás Maduro’s proposed constitutional assembly;
  • the opposition’s strategic opportunities, challenges, and mistakes;
  • the security forces’ role;
  • the highly politicized issue of humanitarian aid;
  • diplomatic efforts at the Organization of American States;
  • the possibility of sanctions, and why WOLA is skeptical of  this tactic under most circumstances; and
  • real hope for multilateral action to find a way forward.

WOLA Podcast: The Trump Administration Wants to Slash U.S. Aid

WOLA’s website will shortly post a written/graphical overview of the Trump administration’s dumpster-fire of a foreign aid budget request. But for now, here’s a very fact-filled conversation about it between WOLA’s program director, Geoff Thale, and me.

Podcast: “The Border Wall and the Budget”

The Trump White House came dangerously close to shutting down the U.S. government over funding for its proposed wall along the border with Mexico. Here I explain the budget process, what we know of the administration’s wall-building plans, and why it’s a bad idea.

I think this one came out pretty well.

Podcast: “The Thing”

Here I talk about a new tool we’ve made for monitoring military aid programs, and why it’s important.

Did you know that the U.S. government now has 107 programs that it can use to aid foreign militaries and police forces? Neither did I, before we started working on what turned out to be a huge report, or project, or “thing,” that’s now nearly complete.

This podcast’s sound is acceptable, but not great. I’m traveling right now, so had to record it on my telephone in a hotel room in Bogotá.

The new resource I discuss here doesn’t have a name yet, but you can check it out in draft form at (In mid-April this will move to

I also discuss the Security Assistance Monitor program, which I highly recommend you visit at

(Here’s the mp3 file. And here’s the podcast feed.)

Podcast: Worrying about peace implementation in Colombia

I want this new blog to come with a podcast. I started the blog because so much of what I do all day is explaining: explaining what we’ve been learning, explaining what concerns us, and explaining what a better policy, strategy, or approach would look like.

The blog forces me to be a better explainer in writing. A podcast can force me to be a better explainer in “talking.”

The podcast I’m launching here is just me sitting at a microphone trying to explain something. No interviews or “produced” documentary content—that’s what the WOLA Podcast is for. This is less ambitious, and I don’t plan to promote it beyond the occasional tweet to let people know an episode exists.

Still, I hope you find it useful, especially because there is so little out there. I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I can’t find much in English about Latin America. (Especially since Rick Rockwell got promoted to dean at Webster University, leaving Latin Pulse almost as dormant as the WOLA Podcast has been.)

Speaking of the WOLA Podcast, expect a new one next week. I’m raising the priority of podcasting at work too. If all goes well, I’ll be posting a WOLA Podcast every 2 weeks, alternating with a “me sitting at the microphone” podcast every 2 weeks. (I’m sure travel and work schedules will interfere with that regularity, but I’m putting it out there as a goal.)

In this inaugural episode, I voice some gnawing concerns about whether, and how, Colombia is going to implement its peace accords. This may be a recurring theme.

I refer to a few documents here:

  • The UN monitoring mission’s latest report.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on 2016 (English | Español).
  • WOLA’s statement about the transitional justice bill.
  • Colombia’s peace accord.
  • Addendum, 3:00PM: Also, I mention that Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute has found “something like 560” individual things that the parties to Colombia’s peace accords have committed to do. I found the actual number: it’s 571 “observable, measurable actions.” Yikes.

Also see:

  • The “Post-Conflict Colombia” tag on this blog.
  • Links to every news article I’ve found useful about this: go to my online news database, click on “Tags” in the left column, then choose “Colombia Post-Conflict.” As of this morning, there are 393 links.

(Here’s the mp3 file. And here’s the podcast feed.)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.