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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WOLA Podcast: Peru’s Turmoil and “the Danger of a Much Deeper Crisis”

Perhaps you’ve been focused on the crisis at the border, the gang crackdown in El Salvador, Brazil’s presidential transition, human rights violations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, Colombia’s peace talks, or something else. But Peru is having a moment that, if unaddressed, could quickly devolve into something much worse.

I spoke to Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at WOLA who closely follows Peru, to talk about what’s been happening. It’s very much worth a listen. Here’s the content of WOLA’s podcast landing page.

A deeply divided country with the world’s highest COVID death rate, Peru has suffered a series of political crises. After the latest, it is now governed by its seventh president in less than seven years.

December 2022 has seen a president’s failed attempt to dissolve Congress and subsequent jailing, and now large-scale protests met with a military crackdown. Divisions between the capital, Lima, and the rural, largely indigenous interior have been heightened by President Pedro Castillo’s exit. The military is playing a more active, openly political, role.

WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt explains how Peru got here, the political divisions, the role of the international community, and the dangerous—but avoidable—possible outcomes of the present crisis.

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

“The dog that did not bark” in Brazil’s elections

In early September, many weeks before Brazil’s hotly contested elections, I’d published a post here citing what journalists and analysts were saying about the role of Brazil’s military. “If Brazil goes ‘January 6,” I asked, “what will its military do?”

Outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, had courted the armed forces’ favor, and it wasn’t 100 percent clear what they would do if Bolsonaro were to reject a loss in the October 30 second-round vote. As of early September, I noted, few analysts with knowledge of Brazil’s military expected it to join in a pro-Bolsonaro coup. “But it’s not clear whether the high command will go along with other undemocratic behavior” like failing to respond to insurrectionary behavior among the president’s supporters.

In the end, this dog did not bark. Brazil’s military quickly accepted the election result. The security forces have not taken the side of pro-Bolsonaro protesters who have manned road blockades and demanded military intervention. The armed forces respected Brazil’s constitution and the work of its electoral court.

Here are a few things that analysts and journalists wrote in the elections’ aftermath.

Veja:

The morning at the Army Command started calm on Monday, one day after the election that confirmed Lula’s victory and the end of Jair Bolsonaro’s political project in the Planalto.

Following the behavior of respect to the institutionality registered during the whole government, the Army High Command did not manifest itself before, during, or after the elections.

As an institution faithful to the Constitution, it already awaits the next steps of the president-elect on Sunday and his transition team. “We will follow all the institutional steps for a smooth transition as we have always believed it should be,” a Command interlocutor told Radar.

The truck drivers calling for a military coup can now return to work. There is not the slightest risk of such a fantasy coming true.

The next meeting of the Army High Command – probably the last under Jair Bolsonaro – will be held on the last weekend of November. The transition will have already progressed and all issues will be dealt with looking to the future.

Foreign Policy:

Some participants at ongoing protests across the country called for a military intervention to overturn the results of the presidential election. Bolsonaro’s vice president, Hamilton Mourão, a retired general, tweeted Wednesday that a military coup would “put the country in a difficult situation among the international community.”

The New York Times:

The military has not considered intervening in the transfer of power and, if the protests expand, it may urge the president to ask his supporters to go home, according to a senior military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. The military, which helped oversee the election, found no signs of fraud, the official said.

The Ministry of Defense said that it would soon deliver its report on the vote’s integrity to election officials.

And now, president-elect Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is promising to remove thousands of active-duty military personnel from the posts they’ve been holding in the civilian part of the government. Veja reported:

Lula warned that he would ‘demilitarize’ the federal public administration. “We are going to have to start this government knowing that we are going to have to remove almost eight thousand military personnel who are in positions, people who didn’t take part in competitive examinations,” Lula declared, in April, during a meeting at the Central Workers Union.

…The ‘demilitarization’ that the party wants to promote should reach other areas of the government. A survey conducted two years ago by the Federal Audit Court (Tribunal de Contas da União) showed that the number of military personnel in civilian positions in Bolsonaro’s government doubled compared to Michel Temer’s government. There were 2,765 in 2018. In 2020, there were more than 6,000.

A new (rare) “post-populist” president

With his October 30 election victory quickly recognized by the U.S. and most international governments (though not yet by current President Jair Bolsonaro), Brazil’s Luis Inácio Lula da Silva becomes a member of a very small club: that of the world’s “post-populist” presidents.

I use the term to refer a leader who, in a democratic election, defeats and succeeds a populist, institution-defying, authoritarian-trending president. The “post-populist” leader usually defeats their adversary before the authoritarian-trending leader can serve enough time in office to consolidate their rule.

As far as I can tell, the list includes:

  • Romano Prodi, a former prime minister who narrowly defeated Silvio Berlusconi in Italy in 2006, leading a broad, fragile center-left coalition.
  • Joe Biden, a former vice president who narrowly defeated Donald Trump in the United States in 2020, leading a broad, fragile center-left coalition known as the Democratic Party.
  • Lula, a former president who narrowly defeated Jair Bosonaro in Brazil in 2022, leading a broad, fragile center-left coalition.

One could add an additional member of this “club,” in Ecuador, whose path to post-populist power was different.

  • Lenin Moreno, the vice president to populist leader Rafael Correa (2007-2017), who only turned against his former political patron after winning victory (narrowly) and succeeding him.

There may be other examples, but these are the only four who come easily to mind. Most everywhere else (Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, increasingly Mexico, etc.), populists remain firmly in power, and in many cases popular enough to win new terms.

What the small number of post-populist leaders shows us, though, is at least three things:

  1. Stopping a second term is vital. Unless an elected authoritarian is popular enough to command a super-majority (as in El Salvador), it usually takes more than a single electoral term for that leader to consolidate rule. It takes several years for non-aligned officials in other branches of government (the high courts, the electoral tribunal, anti-corruption bodies, agencies that oversee the armed forces, commerce, telecommunications) to finish their terms and be replaced. A leader seeking to undermine checks and balances can’t finish the job, usually, in one term.
  2. The rise of authoritarian populism is neither inexorable nor irreversible. This isn’t quite the rise of fascism in the 1930s. The victories of “post-populist” leaders offer hopeful proof that the norms-defying, flooding-the-social-media-zone “playbook” that today’s authoritarians follow is not unbeatable.
  3. One electoral win doesn’t mean that democratic-institutionalist political movements can declare victory. When they lose, populist leaders still outperform their poll numbers and command large minorities. When forced from office, they continue to organize and take advantage of the post-populist leaders’ perceived weaknesses. (With only slim majorities and leading fractious coalitions, those weaknesses are more than “perceived.”)

Populists can win again. They’ve already done so in Italy, and are poised to do well in the November 8, 2022 U.S. midterm legislative elections. For authoritarian populists, outcomes like Brazil’s 2022 elections could turn out to be mere setbacks.

Bolsonaro’s quiet voters

Click image to expand

Here’s the Economist’s tracker of polls leading up to Brazil’s October 2 first-round presidential elections, with the actual result of those elections added as horizontal lines.

Polling predicted challenger Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s vote with reasonable accuracy. His 48.4 percent vote share—not enough to avoid a runoff election on October 30—was well within the band of probability that polls foresaw.

Polling utterly failed, however, to predict controversial President Jair Bolsonaro’s share of the vote. A consensus of surveys had pointed to October 2 being a blowout. Instead, Bolsonaro ended up just 5.2 percentage points behind Lula, with an outside chance of winning re-election in the second round.

Bolsonaro’s result was better than what he got in any of the dozens of polls that the Economist tracked (the blue dots in the chart). Only a handful came close.

Brazilian and international press will no doubt publish analyses over the next few days trying to explain how polling missed so bad, and what this means for the future of the opinion-surveying industry.

In the United States, where Donald Trump has outperformed his poll numbers by a few percentage points, analysts talk about “shy Trump voters.” That may have happened in Brazil, too: a lot of respondents who supported the far-right, often boorish populist president appear to have declined to say so in interviews with pollsters.

It’s also possible that pollsters under-sampled a pro-Bolsonaro sector of the population—although with compulsory voting (and nearly 80 percent turnout), the electorate’s makeup should have been easier to predict than in the United States.

How Colombia’s lopsided approach to security makes Colombians less safe

Here’s the original English of an article I wrote for the Colombian analysis website Razón Pública, which they published on September 19. They had asked me to explain why Colombia faces persistently high levels of violence and insecurity, despite maintaining some of the region’s largest security forces and outspending their neighbors on security.

The answer, I argue, lies mainly in Colombia’s unbalanced approach: if you envision an entire “security sector,” Colombia has really only developed a part of it: the part that carries guns and wears uniforms.

Here’s the text:

Colombia invests robustly in its military, police, and intelligence forces. But it doesn’t invest enough in the security of its citizens. The distinction is important, because the results are tragically evident.

Colombia’s 2023 budget will include about 48 trillion pesos for its Defense Ministry. That’s about 12 percent of the General Budget of the Republic, and just a bit less than 4 percent of Colombia’s gross domestic product.

That is a lot of money. This World Bank page sorts 165 countries in the world for which data exists by percentage of GDP spent on “gasto militar,” from most to least. Scroll down from the top, and Colombia (3.38 percent in 2020) is the first country in the Americas to appear on the list. After the United States, Colombia has the largest Army and the second-largest armed forces in the Western Hemisphere.

Despite that, Colombia is no more secure than its neighbors. According to the annual “round-up” of homicide rates compiled by InsightCrime, Colombia had the Americas’ sixth-highest rate in 2021 (26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants; 27.7 according to the Defense Ministry), similar to that of Mexico, significantly higher than Brazil, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and far higher than Chile or Peru. If Colombia were a major city in the United States—a country with its own violent crime crisis—the entire country would be approximately in tenth place, well ahead of Chicago or Washington.

The government of Iván Duque left security trends moving in the wrong direction. It put most of its energy into taking down “high value targets” or cabecillas of armed groups, and killed or captured many. But between 2017 and 2021, homicides increased 15 percent, massacres and massacre victims more than doubled, and victims of mass internal displacements increased 322 percent. Colombia remains the world’s most dangerous country in which to be a human rights or environmental defender. The first six weeks of Gustavo Petro’s government has been similarly dire, with 18 massacres and the senseless killing of 8 police officers in San Luis, Huila.

What explains this mismatch between robust security expenditure and rampant insecurity? The answer lies in the lopsided and unbalanced nature of Colombia’s security investments. This expresses itself in two broad ways.

First, too much remains undone in addressing the Colombian state’s remarkable weakness in much of national territory, from the agricultural frontier to poor urban neighborhoods. The problem of state absence and territorial abandonment is historic, chronic, and covered well elsewhere. But efforts to address it remain slow and underfunded.

Six years ago, the FARC-government peace accord included an ambitious plan to address the state’s historic absence and begin providing public goods where almost none exist. Chapter 1 of this document (“comprehensive rural reform”) sought to increase state presence in neglected rural areas through Territorially Focused Development Programs (PDETs), sectoral investment plans, a multipurpose cadaster, a Lands Fund, and other initiatives.

Frustratingly, implementation of this chapter is running badly behind. The July report by a group of legislators monitoring accord implementation found that the Duque government met just 1.2 percent of what should be done each year to meet commitments for land distribution through the Lands Fund, 13.1 percent of yearly targets for land formalization, 51.7 percent of targets for the cadaster, and—most troublingly—only 37.3 percent of resources needed to implement the PDETs and stabilize state presence in territory.

The Petro government’s pledges to revive peace accord implementation are encouraging, and the ongoing regional dialogues are a step in the right direction. But much remains to be done to build state presence in ungoverned areas, as the situation has improved little in the six years since the FARC left the scene.

Second, Colombia has focused heavily on strengthening its security forces, but insufficiently on strengthening its security sector. If one regards “security” as just soldiers, police, and intelligence services, one will fail, ultimately, to enforce laws and protect citizens. What must be built up is a larger sector that requires resources, skilled personnel, independence, protection, and political backing.

Think of this “security sector” as a Parthenon-like building with many pillars, or perhaps as a shape made up of concentric layers.

The innermost layer is what most people think about when they envision “security”: highly trained people who are the only individuals in society authorized to use force or—with judicial authorization—to infringe civil liberties. They include soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, special operations forces, police, detectives, spies, and similar.

This is the part of its security sector on which Colombia has invested the most: the uniformed part of its Defense Ministry. Even here, though, there are serious unmet needs, like rural policing, rapid response capacity, de-escalatory crowd control, and other aspects of citizen protection. These get de-proritized in favor of forced coca eradication, “high-value targeting,” aerial bombardments, and other actions emblematic of the previous government’s focus on what it called “símbolos del mal.”

The next layer out consists of civilians charged with day-to-day management of these institutions. These are officials in the defense and public security ministries, ideally a solid core of people who understand threat analysis, planning, defense budget management, rules of evidence and police procedure, human rights, and similar. These institutions also include independent inspectors-general, who handle internal affairs and charges of misconduct, and who alert and accompany judicial authorities when personnel violate laws, engage in corruption, or abuse human rights.

Colombia has had civilian defense ministers for more than 30 years, and mayors share command over police, though in a sometimes confusing fashion. Still, it is hard to argue that Colombia has installed strong capacity and expertise within the civilian part of the state to manage defense issues, which remain largely left up to men (specifically, men) in uniform. Inspectors-general have faced intense institutional pressure during the times when they have truly sought to fulfill their offices’ mission.

The next layer out is another branch of government: judicial authorities, who are there to hold the security forces criminally accountable when necessary, but are especially central to investigating and punishing all criminal activity that threatens’ citizens’ safety. They include prosecutors, judges, investigators and detectives, and the prison system (or, where appropriate, those administering non-carceral alternatives).

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Bukele’s gang crackdown has imprisoned nearly 1 percent of El Salvador’s population

In March, after a violent weekend likely caused by a secret truce’s breakdown, El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele declared all-out war on the country’s MS-13 gang.

This isn’t the first time a Salvadoran president has announced a “mano dura” (iron fist) policy against MS-13, Barrio 18 and other gangs that have made daily life in El Salvador dangerous for a generation. But Bukele’s campaign is the broadest and most indiscriminate.

As of late August, over 51,800 people had been arrested and jailed since March 26 when, in a 3:00 AM meeting with security officials, Bukele gave an order for sweeping arrests. Every day, families surround one of the country’s main prisons, awaiting news about loved ones seized off the streets or even from their homes, as Jonathan Blitzer detailed in a September 5 New Yorker profile of Bukele.

A September 12 investigation by the Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica includes new information about the draconian policy’s origins. “They told us to go that very day and capture all the MS gang members that were identified. They told us: you have to bring in the heads of the gang; you have to touch the gang’s finances. The order was to surround them, to surround their family members, their acquaintances,” an official present at the March 26 meeting said.

The police chiefs were told that they would not have to “worry about the Attorney General’s Office.” According to the sources, the instruction, which was later passed on to all active police officers in the country, was that “the Attorney General’s Office is going to receive the MS gang members that we send them. Without much proof.”

There was no officer or anyone in that room who did not know that they were asking us to go against the law, but that was the order: to bring this to an end,” said one of the sources.

“During the state of emergency, the military performs public security tasks, an assignment that the Salvadoran Constitution gives only to the police,” reads the caption of this image from La Prensa Gráfica photojournalist Luis Martínez.

This is not entirely a police operation. El Salvador’s military, a significant recipient of U.S. military aid, plays a robust role as well. The initial 3:00AM meeting “was not attended by Armed Forces commanders,” La Prensa Gráfica reported, but “military and police officials consulted said that they received orders at another meeting called by Minister Merino Monroy,” referring to the country’s defense minister, René Francis Merino Monroy, an active-duty vice-admiral.

A veteran police agent told La Prensa Gráfica:

This state of emergency has been the first time that he has seen, for example, soldiers patrolling on their own, soldiers detaining civilians, with the freedom to act as if they knew anything about public security tasks. The Minister of Defense has assured that some 18,000 military operatives are carrying out tasks that the Salvadoran Constitution entrusts to the PNC [Civilian National Police].

The newspaper’s investigation continues:

To date, human rights organizations in El Salvador have counted more than 3,000 complaints of human rights violations for the same number of detainees under the state of emergency. The cases analyzed for this investigation confirm a common denominator: the Attorney General’s Office, more than 150 days later, is still unable to prove the gang membership of hundreds of detainees, and in dozens of cases the link between the detainees and these structures is based on informants, the “public voice,” or supposed police records of the detainees, about whom the same arrest records indicate that they had no criminal record or records in databases.

Today, “In El Salvador, having tattoos, being drunk, acting nervous or just looking suspicious are enough reason for police to arrest people.”

If Brazil goes “January 6,” what will its military do?

Brazil’s first-round presidential election is just over three weeks away (October 2). A consensus view is that right-populist President Jair Bolsonaro, who trails former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in every poll, will reject the result if he doesn’t win, setting up Brazil for a sort of January 6 scenario.

If that happens, what will Brazil’s military do? The country’s powerful armed forces ceded power and allowed civilian rule less than 40 years ago, in 1985, and many officers are believed to be admirers of Bolsonaro, a former army captain. A 2021 decree allowed active-duty officers to hold public office. Bolsonaro pushed to give the armed forces a role in detecting possible electoral fraud vulnerabilities, and the officers on a special “election transparency commission” reported finding some.

Few foresee a military coup. But it’s not clear whether the high command will go along with other undemocratic behavior.

Here are a few things that journalists and analysts have said this week in English-language media, as Bolsonaro headed some very politicized Independence Day celebrations on September 7.

Miguel Lago of Columbia University at the New York Times:

There’s a lot we don’t know about how that might come about. But it’s clear that if a contingent of supporters, armed and determined to keep Mr. Bolsonaro in power, burst into Brasília, the capital, it would create chaos. In many major cities, it’s not impossible to imagine an insurrection led by police forces — while truck drivers, overwhelmingly pro-Bolsonaro, could block the roads as they did in 2018, creating havoc. Evangelical pastors, whose congregants by large margins support the president, could bless those efforts as part of the fight for good against evil. Out of such anarchy, Mr. Bolsonaro could forge dictatorial order.

Who will stop him? Probably not the army. Mr. Bolsonaro, after all, has many supporters in the military and over 6,000 military personnel working in his government, filling civilian roles. For its part, the army seems to be relatively relaxed about a possible takeover and has — to put it mildly — no special attachment to democracy. There is no sign, as far as can be seen, that the armed forces could be protagonists of a coup. But neither is there a sign that they would resist an attempt at revolution.

Marcia Reverdosa and Rodrigo Pedroso at CNN:

[Guilherme Casarões, professor of political science at Getulio Vargas University and coordinator of Brazil’s Far Right Observatory] told CNN that that he foresees a “real risk” of a Jan. 6-type event in Brazil if Bolsonaro’s leftwing rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, eventually claims victory at the polls.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a coup in the classic sense with the military on the street, like what happened in 1964,” he said, referring to the historic overthrow that led to two decades of military dictatorship in Brazil.

What I think is more likely to happen is an attempted coup, some kind of subversion of democracy … or any attempt to delay the electoral process by introducing doubts about the legitimacy of the process.”

Agence France Presse:

“There’s not the slightest chance (the military) will play any role outside the one established in the constitution,” said reserve general Maynard Santa Rosa, former secretary for strategic affairs under Bolsonaro.

Even though Bolsonaro enjoys close ties with top military figures, such as Defense Minister Paulo Sergio Nogueira, and has picked former defense minister Walter Braga Netto as his running mate, Fico, the military history expert [Carlos Fico, a military history expert at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro], said those two “have no troops under their command.”

“There is no generalized movement by active duty service members worried about verifying the electronic voting system,” he said.

Fico added that any election-related unrest from the security forces was more likely to come from the police, a group “very influenced by ‘Bolsonaro-ism.'”

John Otis at National Public Radio:

Bolsonaro has not clearly stated whether he would leave office peacefully if he loses. If Bolsonaro is defeated by Lula, then tries to cling to power, analysts say he would lean on the military for support. And some of his supporters are OK with that.

…Fears that the armed forces will intervene in the event of a Lula victory have also been fueled by Bolsonaro’s close ties to the armed forces. He’s a former army captain. His running mate is a retired general, while his government is filled with ex-military officers. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has spent the past year bad-mouthing Brazil’s electronic voting system and claiming that the military should help oversee the vote count. What’s more, authorities recently raided the homes of several Brazilian businessmen who, in text messages, appeared to back a military coup to keep Bolsonaro in power. But some Bolsonaro supporters on the beach, like Patricia Monerat, claim that would never happen.

“A purely military approach has proved not to work”

Asked by Spain’s El País how Colombia’s new government can take on the country’s armed and criminal groups, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ representative in Colombia, Juliette de Rivero, urges a move away from the hunt for “high value targets.” Instead, she calls for more government presence in long-abandoned territories, and more protection of the population.

The devil is in the details, of course, but this is a succinct declaration of principles for a better security strategy. De Rivero goes on to point out that much of what is needed was already foreseen in Colombia’s 2016 peace accord.

Q. In your report you say that the previous government’s strategy of attacking armed group leaders was not effective. The current one has said that they still do not have clear “high value targets”. They are going to have to keep looking for the commanders, what should they do differently this time?

A. For us, the first objective has to be to protect the civilian population. In other words, the military and state strategy must have as its objective the population and their protection, because they are really exposed to such a high level of violence that this should be the first objective. Second, it must be a comprehensive strategy, not only military, and it must be accompanied by the entire state apparatus to resolve the underlying issues. To advance in resolving the land issue, to consolidate what was started with the Territorially Focused Development Programs [PDET]. Alternatives must also be created to illicit economies and the state must be more present and stronger in those places. Local authorities are very weak compared to armed groups, so they have to be consolidated as much as the other branches of the state, such as the judicial apparatus, the prosecutors’ offices, etc. We believe that this is the set of things that can begin to provide an answer, but a purely military approach has proved not to work.

Chile votes

Chilean voters in May 2021: *electing mostly left-leaning members to Constitutional assembly* “Go write a new constitution.”

Constitutional assembly: *writes a left-leaning constitution*

Chilean voters now: “No, not like that.”

Some photos from yesterday’s presidential inauguration in Colombia

It was an honor to be in the audience at yesterday’s swearing-in of President Gustavo Petro and Vice President Francia Márquez. Here is a Flickr album of 40 photos taken with my little point-and-shoot camera, which has a decent zoom lens.

Some of them came out well. Feel free to use them with attribution.

And here’s me during the break in the action while we waited for them to bring out Bolívar’s sword.

At Razón Pública: Iván Velásquez, ministro de Defensa: por qué y para qué

The Colombian publication Razón Pública today published a new piece by me about the defense and security challenges the country is facing, six days before it swears in a new president. That president will be the first leftist politician in Colombia’s modern history, and his choice to lead the Defense Ministry, Iván Velásquez, is one of Latin America’s best-known anti-corruption fighters.

I argue here that Velásquez is a good choice because he at least stands a credible chance of making progress on three urgent security priorities:

  • Combating corruption within the officer corps;
  • Increasing government presence in abandoned marginal rural areas where armed groups and coca thrive; and
  • Deeply reforming and civilianizing the police.

We’ll be adapting some of the language in this column for a WOLA commentary later this week, which will have an English version.

Reuters: In Brazil, Biden’s defense chief to call on region’s militaries to respect democracy

From Reuters today:

U.S. President Joe Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, is expected to call on militaries to respect democracy at an Americas-wide defense gathering this week in Brazil, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Those expected remarks – while not specifically directed at Brazil – are likely to turn heads there ahead of its Oct. 2 election, where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro formally launched his re-election bid on Sunday by saying “the Army is on our side.”

This is the right, and really the only possible, move. Otherwise, a Defense Ministerial meeting in Brazil just 68 days before the presidential election risks appearing like a commercial for Bolsonaro.

WOLA Podcast: “What happens with the Petro government could become a model for engaging with the region”

My WOLA colleague Gimena Sánchez was in Colombia for the June 19 election that brought a left candidate to power there for the first time in nearly anyone’s lifetime. We recorded a podcast about it on Friday, and here it is. Here’s the blurb from WOLA’s podcast site.

Colombia’s June 19 presidential election had a historic result: the first left-of-center government in the country’s modern history. Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla who demobilized over 30 years ago, will be sworn in to the presidency on August 7. His running mate, Afro-Colombian social movement leader and environmental defender Francia Márquez, will be Colombia’s next vice president.

WOLA’s director for the Andes, Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, was in Colombia on election day, and has a lot to share about what she saw and heard. She and host Adam Isacson talk about what made Petro’s victory possible—including high levels of popular discontent. They discuss the political transition so far, the immediate challenges of governability and tax revenue, implications for implementing Colombia’s 2016 peace accord, and hope for greater participation of women, Afro-descendant, Indigenous, and LGBTI Colombians.

The discussion covers areas of potential disagreement with a U.S. government that has long made Colombia its largest aid recipient, including drug policy, trade, and Venezuela policy. Sánchez and Isacson also discuss new areas of potential U.S.-Colombian cooperation, including judicial strengthening and implementation of peace accord commitments that could stabilize long-ungoverned territories.

Links to recent WOLA analysis of Colombia’s elections:

Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.

Recent writing…

You may be wondering what’s the point of maintaining a personal website, if you don’t even use it to post links to things you’ve created at the moment they go public. You’d have a good point.

My only defense is something along the lines of “deadlines meetings too much happening in the news when do I sleep.” That’s a poor defense, though, because it only takes a couple of minutes to post things here, I enjoy maintaining this space, and I want it to be a useful resource.

So here’s what’s come out lately:

The Tragedy in Texas Was Avoidable, Just Like Hundreds of Other Migrant Deaths on U.S. Soil This Year: (posted June 28) As we absorbed the horror of the mass death of migrants in a cargo container in Texas, we published this commentary explaining the larger context: 2022 was already on its way to being a record year for grisly and preventable deaths of migrants on U.S. soil along the border. It’s a result of policies put in place by people in our federal government who have—I don’t know how else to put it—a really cavalier attitude about the deaths of people who’ve committed no crimes.

From rebel to president: Colombia’s new leftist leader: An hourlong English unpacking of Colombia’s election result on BBC’s “Real Story” program, with journalist Catalina Lobo-Guerrero and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera of Birkbeck, University of London.

Migration and the Summit of the Americas: (posted June 23) a podcast I hosted with three WOLA colleagues. Between myself, VP for Programs Maureen Meyer, Mexico and Migrant Rights Program Director Stephanie Brewer, and Program Assistant Lesly Tejada, since March we’ve done field research in four of the nine sectors into which the U.S. Border Patrol divides the U.S.-Mexico border, we’ve been to the Mexico-Guatemala border, and we’ve attended the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where migration was a big topic. Here, we talk about all of that.

A fresh start for Colombia … and for US policy? (posted to the Quincy Institute Responsible Statecraft site June 22) In the wake of Gustavo Petro’s presidential election victory in Colombia, a preview of areas where the U.S. government could work with him (peace implementation, environment, ethnic and women’s rights, anticorruption) and where there may be a collision course (drugs, Venezuela, trade, the military “special relationship”).

Colombia’s politics are changing dramatically. U.S. policy must change too. (posted June 16) Posted in the runup to Colombia’s momentous presidential election, a look at what the implications might be for U.S. policy toward a country President Biden views as a “keystone.”

OK, in the end, this post actually took me a while to write, especially on a Saturday afternoon when there’s a lot going on around the house. Still, I resolve to do a better job of sharing recent work when it comes out.

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