Go to the New York Times right now, and there’s a video on the front page from Tijuana, where I spent the last 2 days. Look really closely and you can see me very briefly, lurking by the San Diego-Tijuana port of entry very early Wednesday morning:
Here’s a video from yesterday, in which WOLA’s president, Matt Clausen, and I do more than lurk. An 18-minute discussion of border security and our trip, filmed as a “Facebook Live” right next to where the border wall hits the Pacific Ocean.
I’ll post more when I have a chance to write, hopefully in the airport this evening, I’m flying back to Washington overnight.
Last week I sat down with my WOLA colleague Gimena Sánchez and with Lisa Haugaard, director of the Latin America Working Group, to talk about the state of Colombia’s peace accord implementation. All three of us had done recent fieldwork there.
Last week, WOLA posted to YouTube the five-plus-hour video of our October 16 conference, “Staying on Course: Security, Coca, Justice, and Accord Implementation in Colombia.” There, you can see the entirety of the outstanding panels in which visiting experts from Colombia talked about transitional justice, coca, and the security situation. Note that it’s in both English and Spanish—we didn’t have the capability to record and dub in the interpreter’s feed.
Filmmakers Tom Laffay, Emily Wright, and Daniel Bustos were in town this evening to screen their 20-minute documentary, “They’re Killing Us,” with lots of footage from Cauca, Colombia in the months after the FARC guerrillas disarmed. The film debuted on the website of The Atlantic at the end of May.
The video states that one social leader is being killed every four days in post-conflict Colombia. In the last few months, though, it’s more like one every day and a half to two days.
I’m pleased, at least, that the film drew a capacity crowd in the Busboys and Poets restaurant’s event space, in Washington’s U Street neighborhood, on a rainy Wednesday night. They had to turn people away for lack of space.
We covered a lot of ground in an hour and a half. To the extent that we left the audience with a conclusion: Central America has taken some initial steps to get at the causes of violence. These steps are fragile and risk reversal. This fight is going to be long and complicated, probably requiring fundamental institutional and even ethical changes.
Many thanks to Steve Hege and the U.S. Institute of Peace for inviting me to participate. Here’s just the audio:
Here’s video, and here’s my written testimony, from this morning’s hearing about “Peace and Victims’ Rights in Colombia” in the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. It was a great hearing, featuring three social leaders working on the front lines of peace accord implementation and inclusion in Colombia.
My role was to talk about future directions for U.S. policy. I suggested five:
Keep the focus on rural areas, especially government presence.
Keep victims at the center of programming and diplomatic support.
Uphold the justice system, and help make it work better.
Be more flexible with the ban on “material support” for ex-FARC.
Coca and Venezuela are priorities, but don’t lose sight of the central role of accord implementation.
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. I wrote an epilogue to the book looking at the present moment.
The discussion was lively and well informed. Paul is a historian, and Liliana is an evolutionary biologist, which made for a novel combination.
Throughout Colombia’s countryside, especially in areas of longtime influence of the former FARC guerrillas, leaders of social organizations are living in fear. Every few days, somewhere in the country, a land-rights claimant, a participant in a crop substitution program, a campesino organizer, or a leader of an ethnic community is murdered. It’s a huge threat to the viability of Colombia’s fragile peace.
On Saturday, Colombia’s Noticias Uno television program ran an interview with the country’s defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, who oversees both the military and the national police. An English transcript of his comments is below the video.
Villegas voiced doubt about whether social leaders’ killings are really a problem. He said that most of the murders have been about disputes between neighbors over property lines, or lovers’ quarrels (or as he put it, “skirts”).
Minister Villegas’ comments call into question his ability to do his job as a top protector of the Colombian people. His insistence on the lack of a single “organization” or entity that might be behind the killings reveals a basic misunderstanding of how organized crime works. Rather than a single body, it is a loose network, one that often includes individuals, like landowners or government officials, who operate from “legality.”
Villegas also reveals a lack of interest in protecting vulnerable people who, with the peace accord, now hope to practice politics free of fear. Instead, the implicit message here is, “you’re on your own.”
Noticias Uno: In dialogue with Noticias Uno, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas referred to the recent killings of social leaders in the country. The high official rejected that their deaths might be related to their claims.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas: I run the risk of generating many comments for what you’re about to hear from me.… There have been cases from [committed by] the ELN, and there have been cases from the FARC, I leave those apart. The rest have been, in their immense majority, the result of an issue with land boundaries, of an issue about skirts [women], of an issue with unmet demands, of an issue with a fight over illicit incomes.
NU: While he clarified that this issue is of concern to the national government, the Defense Minister affirmed that there is no armed group going after leaders.
LCV: One of every two killings today has a judicial explanation.… There is no organization behind this killing leaders.
NU: In addition, for Villegas, the government is convinced that there is no increase in murdered leaders out in the provinces.
LCV:It isn’t that the killings of social leaders suddenly appeared. It’s that perhaps what’s appeared is the measurement of this phenomenon.
NU: While social leaders count 104 leaders assassinated this year, Villegas affirms that the real total is about 50.
LCV: I would be the first to denounce a systematic pattern. If I had any information that there is an organization, a person, a body dedicated to killing leaders in Colombia, I would be the first to come out and say it.
NU: It’s calculated that this year, another 300 leaders have received death threats.
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.
At wola.org, “How to Protect DACA While Actually Securing the Border.” The premise: if Trump is demanding more non-wall border security spending as the price of saving DACA, here are some border priorities we can all agree on. Ports of entry, some technology, reversing Border Patrol attrition, and others.
At Colombia’s El Espectador, “No se va a descertificar a Colombia.” Editorializing on the Trump administration’s September 13 memo saying that the White House “seriously considered” de-certifying Colombia as an ally in the drug war.