Updates from Adam Isacson (March 26, 2024)

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This week's edition is pretty average. There's a Weekly Border Update after an eventful week; a few charts showing what appears to be an unusual spring migration slowdown at the U.S.-Mexico border (but not on the migrant route further south); some links from the past month about civil-military relations; and some other interesting odds and ends.

Also, links to some really good readings, and to six Latin America-related events that I know of in Washington or online this week—fewer than usual because it's Easter week. Have a good holiday if you celebrate.

Weekly U.S.-Mexico Border Update: Migrant deaths, 2024 budget, S.B. 4

  • 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.


  • Reports highlight the crisis of migrant deaths

A report and database from No More Deaths document a rapid increase in the number of migrant remains recovered in Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which covers far west Texas and New Mexico. A preponderance of deaths occur in or near the El Paso metropolitan area, within range of humanitarian assistance. CBP meanwhile released a count of migrant deaths through 2022, a year that saw the agency count a record 895 human remains recovered on the U.S. side of the border. Heat and drowning were the most frequent causes of death.

  • 2024 Homeland Security appropriation increases border security funding

Nearly six months into the fiscal year, Congress on March 21 published text of its 2024 Homeland Security appropriation. As it is one of six bills that must pass by March 22 to avert a partial government shutdown, the current draft is likely to become law with few if any changes. Congressional negotiators approved double-digit-percentage increases in budgets for border security agencies, including new CBP and Border Patrol hires, as well as for migrant detention. The bill has no money for border wall construction, and cuts grants to shelters receiving people released from Border Patrol custody.

  • A week of “whiplash” and uncertainty over Texas’s S.B. 4 law

Texas’s state government planned to start implementing S.B. 4, a law effectively enabling it to carry out its own harsh immigration policy, on March 5. While appeals from the Biden administration and rights defense litigators have so far prevented that, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have gone back and forth about whether Texas may implement the controversial law while appeals proceed. As of the morning of March 22, S.B. 4 is on hold. Mexico’s government has made clear it will not accept deportations even of its own citizens if carried out by Texas.

Read the whole thing here.

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A Big Drop in Venezuelan Migration This Year—But Only in the United States

Mexico just posted its February migration numbers… there must be a huge number of people from Venezuela bottled up in Mexico right now.

2024 numbers from

An Odd Lull in Springtime Migration

Sector chiefs’ weekly Twitter updates point to a mid-March drop in migration in Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California, the two Border Patrol U.S.-Mexico border sectors that have been encountering the most migrants so far this year.

This is not the usual trend. March—and spring in general—is usually a time of steadily increasing migration, until temperatures get too high. In recent years, though, this has become less predictable, as policy changes, internet-driven rumors, and smuggling patterns have had more effect on the numbers of arriving people.


The rightist government of President Javier Milei is sending Argentina’s Congress a package of laws that would return the armed forces to internal security roles for the first time since the years following the country’s return to democracy. The government seeks to deploy combat soldiers—not just logistical support units, as now—to the crime-plagued city of Rosario. Soldiers would be empowered to carry out patrols, checkpoints, and arrests.

The armed forces are complying with the order to help fight organized crime in Rosario, but are uneasy with the new mission. Several generals communicated to Defense Ministry leadership “that they do not want any of their uniformed men touching ‘a single civilian’ in Rosario.”

Many Argentine analysts worry that expanding military roles to include public security and counternarcotics would be a grave mistake. “You have the armed forces as insurance, as if they were your car insurance,” Rut Diamint of Buenos Aires’s Torcuato di Tella Institute tells her students. “You hope never to use them, but when you have to use them, the fact that they have been working as policemen does not help you.”

“Countries that have used the Armed Forces to fight drug trafficking had negative results, there was no success,” said former Argentine Army commander Martín Balza. “The results were lethal, demoralizing for the forces, and seriously affected their essence and professionalism.”

The Milei government has prohibited the use of gendered names for officer ranks held by women (“generala”, “sargenta”, “soldada” or “caba”).

The commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Laura Richardson, will pay a visit to Argentina on April 3.


The former chiefs of Brazil’s army and Air Force told police investigators that then-president Jair Bolsonaro presented them with a plan to remain in power after he lost the country’s October 2022 elections. They refused to participate, though the chief of Brazil’s Navy “said he would put his troops at Jair Bolsonaro’s disposal,” one testified.

“It is said that, of the sixteen members of the high command, between four and six were in on the coup,” wrote Veja columnist Ricardo Rangel.


Faced with concern over urban crime, leftist President Gabriel Boric is voicing willingness to send the military into some neighborhoods using a legal authority to “protect critical infrastructure.” Presidential spokeswoman Camila Vallejo said, “Let’s not believe this is a silver bullet. There is a tone in public opinion or debate that makes people think that this is going to be the solution to fight crime, and the truth is that it is going to be one tool among many.”


Guatemala’s Constitutional Court officially closed the “CREOMPAZ case,” a years-long effort to prosecute a group of former high-ranking military officers accused of forcibly disappearing 565 people between 1982 and 1988, during the country’s long armed conflict. The victims were found in a mass grave at a peacekeeping training base in Alta Verapaz that the Army had used as a clandestine torture center. Among those questionably exonerated is Gen. Benedicto Lucas García, brother of dictator Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982).


Generals who testified in a U.S. court in favor of ex-president Juan Orlando Hernández, who was found guilty of narcotrafficking on March 8, had careers deeply intertwined with that of the disgraced leader, Contra Corriente reported. Gen. Tulio Romero Palacios, who served as Hernández’s aide-de-camp, attended military school with Hernández since they were 13.

The deaths of three alleged gang members in a prison cell on February 18 raised to eleven the death toll in Honduras’s prison system since the armed forces took control of it in June 2023.


A report from Mexico United Against Crime (MUCD), a non-governmental research and advocacy group, documented a sharp growth in the Mexican armed forces’ economic power during the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which began at the end of 2018. The military had no participation in state-owned companies before then, now it is involved in or managing 30. “Today, the Armed Forces are in charge of exercising, administering and strategically managing a large part of public money and the profits of state-owned companies with opacity, high discretion, and no accountability,” it concludes.

Migration control has become a key area of military involvement in domestic non-defense functions, contends a report from the Mexico City-based Universidad Ibero. The country’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) now has retired officers in several high positions and works closely with the military on migrant control operations.

An August rescission of arrest orders against Army personnel allegedly involved in the 2014 Ayotzinapa disappearances “was a startling indication of the power of the Mexican military,” noted Alma Guillermoprieto in a thorough narrative of this high-profile case, which remains in impunity nearly 10 years after it happened.

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

Mexico has 37,478 National Guardsmen assigned to policing tasks under the command of the federal government’s Public Security Secretariat (SSPC), wrote Lilian Chapa Koloffon at Nexos. That is a drop from the 43,724 civilian Federal Police that existed when the Andrés Manuel López Obrador government began in 2018. (López Obrador abolished the Federal Police and set up the National Guard, a militarized force that for now is nominally under civilian command.) Meanwhile, the number of military police in Mexico’s army grew from 14,822 to 69,461 from 2020 to 2024.

The Mexican military’s Cyberspace Operations Center carries out activities including the use of Israeli-made software to monitor citizens’ social media accounts, and “influence operations” to defend the armed forces’ public image, reported the Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales.

The newsmagazine Proceso recalled that Venezuelan civil-military relations expert and activist Rocío San Miguel, whom the Maduro regime imprisoned and has been holding almost totally incommunicado since early February, was a frequent critic of Mexican President López Obrador’s policies that increased his country’s armed forces’ power.


As dictator Daniel Ortega ages and the power of his wife, Rosario Murillo, grows, Manuel Orozco wrote an analysis wondering whether the country’s generals will remain loyal to her, and if so which ones. It notes that the armed forces or retired officers control several entities, from civil aeronautics to tax collection to counternarcotics, that offer potential for enrichment.

CBP Data Through February Added to “cbpdata.adamisacson.com”

At the end of the day Friday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released data about migration and drug seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border through February. Within minutes, I added the migration data to my online tool that helps you search it, cbpdata.adamisacson.com. I’m glad this is so easy to do now.

Here’s what you get when you search for border authorities’ encounters with migrants during the first five months of the U.S. government’s 2024 fiscal year, listed by nationality. (This is everything: both migrants apprehended by Border Patrol between the ports of entry, and migrants—mostly “CBP One” appointments—who arrived at the ports of entry.) You can see an increase over January, but still well below late last year.

Visit the “cpbdata” tool to view migration data by country, by demographic category, by geographic area, and to see years going back to 2020. I’ll be updating our collection of infographics over the next several days.

A “Summarizer and Archiver” GPT

If you have a paid ChatGPT subscription, here’s a “GPT” I’ve made that gives you a bullet-pointed summary of an article or report, in Markdown format (plain text with simple formatting notation, which is easy to archive and share).

These are the instructions I’ve given it (which I think I’m done tweaking, but maybe not yet):

Summarizer and Archiver is designed to assist with summarizing lengthy articles and reports on topics such as security, defense, human rights, and migration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Summaries follow a structured format, beginning with the principal argument, including supporting findings, conclusions, and recommendations, and formatted as bullet points with boldfaced phrases. An approximate guideline is five bullet points for the supporting findings and conclusions section, though the number could be greater or fewer as warranted. Additionally, up to 10 consistent tags are suggested for archiving. The communication style is formal, ensuring consistency in language for ease of future search and archival. Responses are provided in blocks of Markdown code for ease of sharing.

I just ask the GPT to summarize an article or report, which is either an uploaded PDF attachment or copy-pasted text. (For added clarity, I put the pasted text between <article></article> tags.)

Here’s the result when I fed it a March 10 El País interview, in Spanish, with Chilean President Gabriel Boric:

- **Principal Argument**: Chilean President Gabriel Boric reflects on his tenure, emphasizing his commitment to addressing the country's pressing issues, such as improving pensions, stimulating economic growth, and tackling crime, despite facing challenges such as low approval ratings and the failure of constitutional reform attempts.

- **Supporting Findings and Conclusions**:
  - **Constitutional Reform Efforts**: Boric acknowledges the failure of two constitutional reform attempts but views them as learning opportunities rather than losses, underscoring the importance of updating the constitution eventually.
  - **Economic and Social Priorities**: He outlines his administration's focus on economic recovery, reducing poverty and inequality, improving public education, and addressing security as top priorities, with significant legislation passed to enhance security and police forces.
  - **Political Landscape**: Despite challenges, including high disapproval rates and the impact of political scandals, Boric remains optimistic about his government's progress and the tangible improvements in Chile's social and economic indicators since taking office.
  - **International Relations and Political Ideology**: Boric distances himself from authoritarian regimes and emphasizes the importance of a progressive government working in unity with the center-left to improve citizens' quality of life, contrasting his administration with right-wing movements in Latin America and globally.
  - **Future Outlook and Legacy**: He discusses his hopes for Chile's future, including the continuation of progressive policies and the development of a long-term coalition for progressive governance, while personally not aspiring for a second presidential term.

- **Recommendations**: Boric suggests that continued efforts to improve economic conditions, enhance security, and address social issues will be crucial in countering the rise of the far-right and maintaining democratic stability. He also emphasizes the need for political unity and the adaptation of progressive principles to meet current challenges.

- **Tags**: #Chile, #GabrielBoric, #Presidency, #ConstitutionalReform, #EconomicGrowth, #Security, #PoliticalChallenges, #ProgressiveGovernance, #InternationalRelations, #FutureOutlook

I now add long articles and reports to my personal archive with these summaries first. I’ve done this dozens of times in the past few weeks, and it’s working well. Hope you find it useful.

Celia Pousset, El Uniforme del Crimen en el Estado de Excepcion de Honduras (ContraCorriente (Honduras), Thursday, March 21, 2024).

Las autoridades alegan que no son ellas las culpables, sino las bandas delictivas que usan imitaciones de sus chalecos y armas. Sin embargo, las víctimas apuntan al Estado como responsable

Brief of Amicus Curiae the Government of the United Mexican States in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees and Affirmance of the District Court's Preliminary Injunction Order (Government of Mexico, United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, Thursday, March 21, 2024).

SB 4 is already causing significant fear and concern among Mexican nationals living in Texas. The Government of Mexico has a significant interest in protecting the international and constitutional rights and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of each of these individuals

Christopher Newton, Juliana Manjarres, Insight Crime's 2023 Cocaine Seizure Round-Up (InsightCrime, Wednesday, March 20, 2024).

InSight Crime analyzes cocaine seizures in countries with prominent roles in the drug trade or whose role significantly changed during 2023

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 (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

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

Monday, March 25, 2024

  • 4:00-5:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Nicaragua Must Survive: Sandinista Revolutionary Diplomacy in the Global Cold War (RSVP required).

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

  • 11:00-12:00 at the Wilson Center: Book Launch: Battle of Powers (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:30 at WOLA and wola.org: Violence, Security and the Search for Justice in Venezuela (RSVP required).

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

And Finally

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Jamie Larson