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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Lecture video on Latin America’s militaries

Here’s video of a full-length lecture I gave (virtually) two weeks ago, on November 15, at Syracuse University’s Moynihan Center. It’s called “Beyond ‘Soldiers as Police’: The Military’s Growing Role in 21st Century Latin American Democracies.” With no strict time limit, I got to go through:

  • the region’s post-1980s transitions to democracy,
  • the subsequent move to use soldiers as police,
  • how ineffective that turned out to be against organized crime,
  • increased politicization of militaries starting circa 2018-19,
  • how this overlays with authoritarian populist leaders,
  • how the pandemic affects all this,
  • use of militaries for crowd control, and
  • where this might all be headed.

VIew it below, or at Syracuse University’s site.

Video of today’s event on militaries and the war on drugs

Congratulations to my colleagues in WOLA’s Drug Policy Program for organizing this successful October 29 event to discuss how nearly 40 years of counter-drug missions have distorted civil-military relations in the region. I was honored to be able to participate on this panel, covering U.S. military assistance.

Video of this morning’s Colombia coca event

Many thanks to our longtime friends and colleagues at the International Crisis group for joining us at this event. Though the topic is complex and often frustrating to teach, everybody explained well what they’ve been learning in the field, and the points that they wanted to get across. The moderation, interpretation, and technical aspects were all spot-on. We had well over 150 live viewers—I was glad to see the number not dropping as we passed the one-hour mark—and at least 200 more since then.

And don’t miss the February 26 ICG report on coca in Colombia, “Deeply Rooted,” on which this discussion centers.

A video archive about late 2020 civil-military relations, covering 11 Latin American countries

After a very successful event today, we now have, on WOLA’s YouTube page, four hours of discussions of the current moment with premier experts in civil-military relations from 11 Latin American countries. It’s in two parts: today’s discussion, and an earlier one, with a similar format, hosted in September.

Taken together, they are a tremendous resource for understanding this uneasy, precarious moment in the hemisphere’s politics and democratic transitions (or reversions). Sort of like two focus groups taking the pulse of things, shared with the public.

This is raw video in Spanish, though. Some audiences, like busy policymakers with competing commitments and responsibilities, won’t watch all of it. We need to repackage it, perhaps in a variety of formats. I need to figure out over the holidays how best to do that.

In the meantime, though, here are the event videos, which are really worth your time. In reverse chronological order:

Today’s video (December 11), covering Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru.
Our September 11 event, covering Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Video of yesterday’s discussion of coca and eradication in Colombia

That was a great discussion yesterday. As you could see if you “attended,” our partners in Colombia are very concerned about what might happen if the U.S-funded program of aerial glyphosate fumigation returns to Colombia’s coca-growing zones, as the Bogotá government is promising may happen in two months or less.

I’m pleased that several dozen people tuned in to the live event. Here is the video. There’s no translation track, so you have to be comfortable with Spanish.

We’ll keep making noise about this, because it’s bad policy, it’s going to harm people, and even if it temporarily brings the “hectare” number down, it will do so at great cost to social peace and to Colombia’s peace process.

Two interviews from last Thursday

I enjoyed talking about the border for an hour, on DC poet and all-around-brilliant person Ethelbert Miller’s radio show, on November 19.

And later that same day I was pleased that Cuestión de Poder, on the NTN24 cable network, wanted to dig into the COVID-era expansion of Latin America’s militaries’ roles. We’ll be wrestling with this for a while.

Also, the plants in my home office are thriving right now.

Video: Civil-Military Relations in Latin America after Six Months of the Pandemic

On September 11 I helped put together an event with experts from six Latin American countries to discuss the worsening imbalance of civil-military relations throughout the region, and how COVID-19 is complicating things further.

Military officers are occupying civilian government agencies, keeping order, handing out food, enforcing curfews, and just generally becoming a daily part of people’s lives to an extent unseen since the military dictatorships of a decade ago.

This is mainly happening at the behest of civilian presidents, but there is real cause for alarm here, and our presenters made the case very clearly. They did so in Spanish, without translation, as seen in the video at the bottom of this post.

The video at the top of this post, though, is new. My excellent intern Elissa Prieto took highlights from that event and added English subtitles, giving you a fast-moving, 14-minute pulse-taking of this increasingly worrisome trend.

Here is the original 2-hour video in Spanish:

2 videos in which I talk about U.S. troops in Colombia

Earlier today I joined Colombian Green Party Senator Antonio Sanguino on Ariel Ávila’s El Poder program, on the YouTube channel of the Colombian newsmagazine Semana. The subject was the recently announced deployment of a contingent of U.S. military trainers.

Later, I joined Daniel García Pena and Laura Gil for a discussion of the same subject hosted by the Colombian NGO Planeta Paz.

I cringe watching myself speak Spanish, but the subject matter is important. And my high-def webcam has turned out to be a good pre-quarantine investment.

4 ways border and migration policy risk spreading coronavirus

Here’s a Twitter-length video I made to accompany yesterday’s commentary on the nightmarish situation at the border right now. The ongoing expulsions, deportations, detentions, and wall-building are being carried out in a way that risks creating new vectors for spreading coronavirus. They’re the opposite of social distancing, and they have to stop.

Why fumigation isn’t the solution, in 2 minutes

In response to the White House’s announcement yesterday that Colombian coca cultivation crept upward in 2019, I worked with WOLA colleagues to put out a good press release.

I wanted to do a bit more, and it seemed like a good moment to try something new: a rapid-response “explainer” video.

So here’s a quick explanation of Colombia’s coca phenomenon, and what hasn’t been tried (like, say, implementing the peace accord).

It turns out that, at least the first time one attempts this, it takes 2 and a half hours, between scripting and at least a dozen takes, to produce something reasonably coherent that fits within Twitter’s 2 minute, 20 second time limit for videos.

1,500 views on Twitter in 2 hours is pretty cool though.

At the Forum on the Arms Trade’s 2020 Annual Conference

A great conference today hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade at the Stimson Center, “Beyond the Headlines: Redefining Responsibility in the Arms Trade.” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) gave great opening remarks, and then the panels were really timely and action-oriented.

I gave the overview of Latin America. I come on at around the 1 hour and 5 minute mark in this video.

Lecture: “Saving Colombia’s Fragile Peace”

Here’s a well-produced video of a lecture that I gave at Florida State University on October 30.

It’s a recent iteration of my “Colombia 101” talk, covering the conflict, U.S. policy, Plan Colombia, the peace process, and today’s security challenges. It’s 55 minutes plus Q&A.

The folks at FSU did a great job of integrating my dozens of slides into the video. I’m grateful to them for documenting this so well.

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