Updates from Adam Isacson (April 1, 2024)

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This week's edition includes a Weekly Border Update with a bit too much data, a roundup of arms transfers that took place in the Americas over the past month (way too many), links to five really good "long reads" about security in the Americas over the past month, and some notes about asylum access at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Also, links to some really good readings, and to six Latin America-related events that I know of in Washington or online this week.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: March 29, 2024

  • Read the whole thing here. See past weekly updates here.
  • For 2024 - read our daily border links posts here. You can subscribe to the daily border links list here.


  • Mexico’s intensified enforcement delays the United States’ expected spring migration increase

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border usually increases in springtime. That is not happening in 2024, although numbers are up in Mexico and further south. Increased Mexican government operations to block or hinder migrants are a central reason. Especially striking is migration from Venezuela, which has plummeted at the U.S. border and moved largely to ports of entry. It is unclear why Venezuelan migration has dropped more steeply than that from other nations.

  • Insights from CBP’s February reporting about the border

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico border increased by 8 percent from January to February; the portion that is Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants grew by 13 percent. February’s levels were still on the low end for the Biden administration. Preliminary March data indicate no further increases this month.

  • Is Texas’s crackdown pushing migrants to other states?

Texas’s governor, an immigration hardliner, is claiming credit for a westward shift of migration toward Arizona and California. Uncertainty over a harsh new law—currently blocked in the courts—could be leading some migrants to avoid Texas, but the overall picture is more complex. Migration declined slightly in Arizona in February and is still dropping there in March, while four out of five Texas border sectors saw some growth in February.

  • Migration on the agenda of Guatemalan President’s visit to Washington

President Bernardo Arévalo of Guatemala, in his third month in office, paid his first official visit to Washington, meeting separately with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The White House touted $170 million in new assistance to Guatemala and the operations of a U.S.-backed “Safe Mobility Office” that seeks to steer would-be migrants toward legal pathways. In 2023, Guatemala’s previous government expelled more than 23,000 U.S.-bound migrants, most of them from Venezuela, back across its border into Honduras.

Read the whole thing here.

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Visiting Brazil, French President Emmanuel Macron highlighted binational cooperation on submarines, which began in 2008. Brazil has used French technical assistance to build three of four planned diesel attack subs. While Brazil is cooperating with France’s Naval Group corporation on a Brazilian-built nuclear submarine, France is reluctant to transfer the most advanced technologies.


Source: @USembassyEC on Twitter.

Ecuador took delivery of two big U.S. military and police aid items last week. The U.S. government’s security assistance program has been ramping up following a January 9 outbreak of organized-crime violence around the country and subsequent state-of-emergency declaration from President Daniel Noboa.

  • A “mobile police barracks” for use along Ecuador’s side of its border with Colombia, consisting of eight converted storage containers, a sewage tank, and an electric power plant. “An estimated 80 police officers trained for border control tasks, from the Unit for the Fight against Organized Crime (ULCO), will patrol nearby roads and border zones, then spend nights and eat in the containers, which have a kitchen, dining room, dormitories, and meeting areas, among other spaces,” reported El Universo.
  • A C-130H Hercules cargo aircraft that the U.S. government had originally scheduled for a 2026 handover to Ecuador, but reprioritized in light of the security situation. The plane, valued at over $12 million, was built in 1974. In 1988, the U.S. government gave it to Afghanistan’s Air Force; following the 2021 Taliban takeover in Kabul, the U.S. Air Force reconditioned and modernized the plane.

Ecuador is now almost certainly the number-two recipient of U.S. security assistance in the Western Hemisphere after Colombia, surpassing Mexico.

At the aircraft handover event, Amb. Fitzpatrick also “highlighted an investment of US$10 million to rehabilitate the FAE’s fleet of Super Tucanos [Brazilian-made attack aircraft] and the delivery of night vision tools and weapons for the Ecuadorian military,” according to the Ecuadorian daily Primicias.

Faced with a possible Russian embargo on Ecuadorian bananas, the government in Quito abandoned a plan to send used “junk” Russian-made equipment to the United States in exchange for a shipment of U.S.-made items. The plan apparently had been to hand over Ecuador’s Russian-made equipment to the government of Ukraine.


Bolivia’s minister of government announced that the European Union (EU) had provided 20 million Bolivianos’ (about US$2.9 million) worth of “weapons, equipment, clothing, and reconditioned aircraft” to the Bolivian police force’s Special Force for the Fight against Drug Trafficking (FELCN). An EU communiqué sought to clarify, however, that its counter-drug aid to Bolivia “includes or can be used for the purchase of armaments.” The Ministry of Government, in response, specified that the aid included “night vision devices and portable equipment for the identification of controlled substances.”


Chile’s national police force (Carabineros) took delivery of four Hunter TR-12 armored vehicles built in Colombia by Armor International.

In protest of Israel’s human rights abuses in Gaza, Chile’s government banned Israeli companies from its annual International Air and Space Fair (FIDAE), one of Latin America’s largest air shows.


For the same reason, Colombia’s government has suspended all military trade with Israel. Major Israeli defense items in Colombia’s arsenal include the Atmos artillery system, the Barax air defense system, about 300,000 Galil rifles, and some aging Kfir fighter jets.

Colombia is discussing with the United States a possible purchase of F-16 fighter planes, which cost roughly US$160 million apiece, to replace the Kfirs.

Colombia is also discussing with the United States a possible purchase of more UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. That helicopter model was a central item in the United States’ “Plan Colombia” arms transfers of the 2000s; combining grants and purchases, Colombia has the world’s sixth-largest Black Hawk fleet.


The U.S. State Department blocked the export of all U.S.-originated defense articles to Nicaragua’s authoritarian government. While the United States has not been transferring such articles to Nicaragua, the measure seeks to stop third countries from transferring to Nicaragua any items with U.S.-made components.


Venezuela obtained a “Hunter SHH100” anti-drone system from Skyfend, a Chinese company.

Some of the F-16 jets that Venezuela purchased from the United States in the years before Hugo Chávez’s 1998 election are still operable. Three of them took part in an early March military exercise.


“Uruguay is negotiating the purchase of weapons, radars, and military trucks with the United States,” noted Southern Command’s Diálogo website.


In late 2023, Honduras purchased 10 South African-built “Black Mamba” armored police vehicles and has already begun using the two that have been delivered on operations in urban neighborhoods.


Peru has almost completed a $25.5 million overhaul of four Russian-made Mi-8MTV-1 Hip H transport helicopters belonging to its army. Defensa.com reported that Peru has renovated more than 15 Russian helicopters in its arsenal in the past 5 years; many of them sustained bullet impacts on operations in the VRAEM region, where Shining Path remnants continue to operate.

Much of Peru’s army equipment is Russian-made, the result of a changeover made when Peru was ruled by a left-leaning military dictatorship that came to power in 1968.

No Plans to Expand CBP One Appointments…

Catching up on what was said at a March 21 House Homeland hearing about the CBP One app, which Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using to allow 1,450 asylum seekers per day inside Mexico to make appointments at U.S. land border ports of entry.

An official from CBP’s Office of Field Operations told the Committee that:

  • Asylum seekers’ average wait inside Mexico for a CBP One appointment is “2 1/2 months right now.”
  • CBP has no plans to increase the number of appointments.
With respect to the wait times for individuals in Mexico, it’s averaging about two and a half months right now.
We do have to take into consideration the operations at our ports of entry.
We are not there just simply encountering inadmissible individuals who are attempting to enter the United States.
We have the facilitation of lawful travel and trade.
We also have to work outbound operations to interdict weapons and currency. We have to make sure that we’re intercepting narcotics, specifically fentanyl.
So to ensure that we are not walking away from any of the missions, stream- lining this process, ensuring that we can advance information to officers and automate it to the extent possible, but not also walk away from those other critical missions.
We’re not looking to expand the number of appointments.

There is clearly a need for more appointments, as the number of asylum seekers crossing illegally to turn themselves in to Border Patrol is still a multiple of those who manage to get appointments at ports of entry using the app. And in some parts of the border, investigators from the University of Texas Strauss Center have documented, the wait is now as much as six months.

Once asylum seekers arrive at the port of entry, they cannot leave the physical line or they risk losing their turn. The individuals crossing have been waiting for six months.
Civil society organizations in the city report that some migrants are waiting for up to six months before they receive a CBP One appointment.15 This long wait time has caused stress and uncertainty among the migrant population, and people periodically cross the Rio Grande instead of waiting. On the U.S. riverbank, the Texas National Guard has placed more than ten rows of concertina wire. Migrants who cross the river in this zone become stuck between the river and the concertina wire.

Five Latin America Security Long-Reads from March

The Unsolved Crime in “Total Peace”: Dealing With Colombia’s Gaitanistas (International Crisis Group, Tuesday, March 19, 2024).

The Gaitanistas, Colombia’s largest and richest armed and criminal group, remain outside the government’s initiative for dialogue with all the country’s armed organisations. To avoid jeopardising other peace processes and to protect civilians, Bogotá should seek gradual talks with the Gaitanistas, while maintaining security pressure

Blanca Carmona, Cindy Ramirez, Gabriela Minjares, Jack Sapoch, Melissa del Bosque, Monica C. Camacho, Rocio Gallegos, Death Trap: Juarez Migrant Detention Center Fire a Year Later (El Paso Matters, La Verdad (Ciudad Juarez Mexico), Lighthouse Media, El Paso Matters, Tuesday, March 19, 2024).

Previously undisclosed security camera footage – as well as court documents and exclusive interviews with survivors – show a number of safety failures and oversights that created a death trap at a Juárez migrant detention center fire a year ago this month

Cindy A. Morales Castillo, Viaje a las Entranas del Canon del Micay: Asi se Vive en el Mayor Fortin de la Disidencia de Mordisco (El Espectador (Colombia), Sunday, March 17, 2024).

El control de este punto se ha consolidado como el talón de Aquiles de la negociación de paz entre el Estado Mayor Central y el Gobierno Petro

Megan Janetsky, Rodrigo Abd, Victor R. Caivano, Native groups sit on a treasure trove of lithium. Now mines threaten their water, culture and wealth (Associated Press, Associated Press, Wednesday, March 13, 2024).

In the “lithium triangle” – a region spanning Argentina, Chile and Bolivia – native communities sit upon an estimated trillion dollars in lithium

Alma Guillermoprieto, Forty-Three Mexican Students Went Missing. What Really Happened to Them? (The New Yorker, Monday, March 4, 2024).

One night in 2014, a group of young men from a rural teachers’ college vanished. Since then, their families have fought for answers

Jon Lee Anderson, The Brazilian Special-Forces Unit Fighting to Save the Amazon (The New Yorker, Monday, April 1, 2024).

As miners ravage Yanomami lands, combat-trained environmentalists work to root them out

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, La Preponderancia Militar de Estados Unidos en America Latina (Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Cenital, Sunday, March 31, 2024).

Hay un hilo de continuidad entre aquella disputa entre Washington y Moscú y la actual pugna entre Estados Unidos y China en la mirada prevaleciente entre militares y civiles, dentro y fuera del gobierno de turno

Pooja Bhatia, Leaving Haiti (London Review of Books, Thursday, March 28, 2024).

In 2015, for the first time, large numbers of Haitians made the seven-thousand-mile journey through South and Central America, and then north through Mexico to the US border. Some sought asylum. But most were simply ‘chèche lavi’ – looking for life

Will Freeman, Can Mexico's Next President Control the Military? (Council on Foreign Relations, Journal of Democracy, Wednesday, March 27, 2024).

The country’s military brass has a larger role governing Mexico than at any time in the past eighty years. It’s creating a dangerous dependency that won’t be easy to break. Can the generals be reined in?

Colleen Putzel-Kavanaugh, Muzaffar Chishti, The Limits of the Go-It-Alone Approach: U.S. Migration Management Increasingly Requires Other Countries' Cooperation (Migration Policy Institute, Wednesday, March 27, 2024).

Increasingly, the United States cannot by itself dictate what happens at the border or how effectively it can remove and return migrants found ineligible to remain in the country

Pedro Sosa Tabio, Sangre y Muerte en Altamar. Una Historia de Balseros (El Toque (Cuba), Tuesday, March 26, 2024).

«El barco madre» o simplemente «el barco» llaman los balseros cubanos a las embarcaciones de la guardia costera estadounidense, temidas o agradecidas según el caso, pues recogen a cuantos balseros encuentren en el mar y los regresan a Cuba, no importa si están varados, si son náufragos o si tienen las condiciones ideales para llegar a Florida

(Events that I know of, anyway. All times are U.S. Eastern.)

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

  • 4:00 at the Atlantic Council and atlanticcouncil.org: Venezuelans’ view of the July elections: A look at public opinion (RSVP required).

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Friday, April 5, 2024

  • 10:00-12:00 at the Brookings Institution and Brookings.edu: The 10th annual Breyer Lecture: Matias Spektor on the US, the West, and international law in an age of strategic competition (RSVP required).

And Finally

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Jamie Larson