Updates from Adam Isacson (November 6, 2023)

Hi, this is Adam. If you're receiving this message, it means you signed up on my website to receive regular updates. If you'd like to stop getting these, just follow the instructions further down.

I just spent two weeks in Colombia, most of it in regions near the Panama and Ecuador borders. I flew back overnight Friday and have been back in Washington since mid-day Saturday. I've barely begun processing the notes taken in about 50 conversations I had with people in 11 different municipalities in Colombia and Ecuador.

Last week's email shared a few photos from northwestern Colombia, on the migration route leading to Panama and (much later) the United States. Below are some photos from the Colombia-Ecuador border region, through which many people pass days before they reach the Panama border region.

Before that, though, are some links to Latin America-related events I know of this week. I'll be in two of them, both broadcast online.

No news links or other updates to share yet. I'm just back and, except for all that I discussed during my trip, I'm a bit out of date myself.

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

Monday, November 6

Tuesday, November 7

  • 8:30-5:30 at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission: 188 Period of Sessions.
  • 3:00-4:30 at Zoom: Migrant Justice in Times of Militarized Borders (RSVP required).
  • 5:00-6:30 at American University: Cafecito Talk: Gender, Tech, and Sustainability (RSVP required).

Wednesday, November 8

Thursday, November 9

Friday, November 10

Tuesday 3:00 Eastern: “Migrant Justice in Times of Militarized Borders”

Event poster: Migrant Justice in times of militarized borders

Hispanics in Philanthropy - Open Society Foundations

Lizbeth Gramajo, Red Jesuita con Migrantes de Centroamérica y Norteamérica

Adam Isacson, Washington Office on Latin America

Lorena Delgadillo, Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho

Manaka Infante, Open Society Foundations

Jose Knippen, Hispanics in Philanthropy

Tuesday November 7, 2023 12PM PT 2PM CT 3PM ET

Register at bit.ly/webinar-fronteras

I’ll be on a first-rate virtual panel on Tuesday afternoon, talking about hard-line “deterrence” border and migration policies—which cause a lot of harm, continue to escalate, and fail to deter desperate people—at the U.S.-Mexico border and along the migration route. Register here to view and participate.

Thursday 5:00 Eastern: "Crowd-Control Weapons in the Americas: Evidence From the Ground and How to Stop Their Harm"

WOLA is hosting, and I'm moderating, an important discussion with representatives of a group of human rights organizations from all around the region. They have a hearing at this week's Washington-based sessions of the OAS Inter-American Human Rights Commission to discuss states' misuse of "less lethal" weapons to harm people who participate in political protests.

The event is Thursday at 5:00PM, after their hearing, live at WOLA's offices and online.

More Photos from Colombia

Before I left for Colombia on October 21, I replaced my four-and-a-half year-old phone with a current model. The new phone isn’t much different than the old one, with one huge exception: the camera, which makes me seem like a much better photographer than I actually am.

Here are some images that are less work-related but just pretty cool. Presented in no particular order. Click on any to expand in a new window. (I shared other photos from the trip in two earlier posts.)

Bogotá at night.
Mural in El Placer, Putumayo, Colombia.
A few hundred people from Embera-Katío Indigenous communities, displaced by violence in northwestern Colombia, have been camped since October in Bogotá’s Parque Nacional, in the middle of the city near the Javeriana University.
A griffin atop Colombia’s Congress building.
The people of Ipiales, Nariño celebrated Halloween with aplomb.
Not usually a fan of dressing kids up as cops, but the kid in the lower left in Ipiales is super cute.
The spot where we had a hearty breakfast in La Bonita, Ecuador, along the border with Nariño, Colombia.
Outside Lago Agrio, Ecuador, a few minutes’ drive south of Colombia.
Paramilitary display in the “Museum of Memory” in El Placer, Putumayo. The building used to be a school (hence the beat-up chalkboard), where paramilitaries committed numerous abuses. One of the photos on the chalk ledge was taken by me in 2004.
Darién Gap-bound migrants bathing in the Gulf of Urabá in Necoclí, Antioquia.
Boats in Necoclí, ready to take migrants across the Gulf of Urabá to the Darién Gap.
Orito, Putumayo on Saturday night.
Central Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar, recently grafitti’ed by student protesters.
Roadside arepas in La Hormiga, Putumayo.
Looking into San Miguel, Putumayo, Colombia from the Ecuador side of the border bridge.
Provisions for migrants’ walk through the Darién Gap, on sale near the dock in Turbo, Antioquia.
The army and police welcome you to Urabá, northwestern Colombia (at the Apartadó, Antioquia airport).
At the Rumichaca bridge between Ipiales, Nariño, Colombia and (in the background) Tulcán, Carchi, Ecuador.

Six days in Putumayo and Along the Colombia-Ecuador Border

(Posted to my site on November 3.)

Greetings from Bogotá. I’m here until tomorrow night, with 10 meetings on the schedule today and tomorrow.

This was day 13 of a 14-day research trip. I’ve slept in 10 different hotels in 9 places:

  • Bogotá
  • Apartadó, Antioquia
  • Necoclí, Antioquia
  • Bogotá
  • Puerto Asís, Putumayo
  • Orito, Putumayo
  • La Hormiga, Putumayo
  • Lago Agrio, Sucumbíos, Ecuador
  • Ipiales, Nariño
  • Pasto, Nariño
  • Bogotá

The purpose of this insane itinerary was to learn about the latest developments in migration through, and to, Colombia. I was able to visit the Colombia-Panama and Colombia-Ecuador border regions.

With two WOLA colleagues I was on the outskirts of the Darién Gap region straddling Colombia and Panama, through which nearly 500,000 migrants have passed so far this year. With longtime Colombian colleagues I also visited the border between Carchi, Ecuador and Nariño, Colombia, through which hundreds of Darién-bound migrants from dozens of countries pass each day.

While at the Colombia-Ecuador border I was also able to spend a few days in the department of Putumayo, which is where U.S.-backed military and police anti-drug operations began after the 2000 passage of the Clinton administration’s mammoth initial “Plan Colombia” aid package. Twenty-three years later, Putumayo remains a principal zone of coca and cocaine production, under the heavy influence of two feuding armed groups.

I need to go through my tens of thousands of words of notes just to come up with the number of meetings and conversations I’ve had since October 22. It’s more than 50. I’ve talked to people migrating, aid workers, international organizations, migrants associations, Indigenous groups, campesino groups, coca cultivators, mayors and other local officials, national government officials, U.S. diplomats, journalists, human rights defenders, police, scholars, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some sectors.

I’ve barely had time yet to process my notes, much less wrap my head around what I’ve seen and heard. But here are some photos from Putumayo, northern Ecuador, and Nariño. (I posted Darién-area photos about a week ago.)

The Putumayo River, which eventually flows in to the Amazon, just north of Puerto Asís, Putumayo.
At a supermarket in Orito, Putumayo, a sign advertises money transfers to Venezuela. People who have fled Venezuela live all over Colombia, even in places like Orito that are very distant from Venezuela and have a strong presence of coca cultivation and armed groups.
Colombia held local elections on Sunday October 29. On the evening of the 28th in Orito, mayoral candidates held rallies outside their party headquarters.
El Placer, Putumayo, was the site of a 1999 paramilitary massacre; the town became notorious nationwide for the paramilitaries’ systematic rapes of the town’s women and girls. At the time, the United States was pumping military aid into Putumayo under “Plan Colombia” even though the local armed forces collaborated with the paramilitaries. The town’s school, where paramilitaries committed many of the violations, is now a “museum of memory.” I took one of the photos on the wall here (see page 323 of this report) during a 2004 visit when I worked for the Center for International Policy.
The bridge between San Miguel, Putumayo, Colombia and General Farfán, Sucumbíos, Ecuador.
The mountains of Nariño, Colombia viewed from La Bonita, Sucumbíos, Ecuador.
Families—almost certainly Darién-bound, as they’re traveling with sleeping gear and minimal backpacks—at the bus station in the border city of Tulcán, Ecuador.
The two kids on the left, one with a Venezuelan flag-themed backpack, are southbound: they said they just left Venezuela and are headed to Peru, where they have relatives. This is the bus terminal in Tulcán, Ecuador.
We encountered several groups of people fleeing China. This is the Tulcán bus terminal, but people holding Chinese passports were also at the official border crossing and on my flight today from Pasto, Nariño to Bogotá.
The Rumichaca border crossing between Tulcán, Carchi, Ecuador and Ipiales, Nariño, Colombia.
The bus terminal in the border city of Ipiales, Nariño.
Migrant shelter run by Pastoral Social (Caritas) in Ipiales.

And Finally

Subscribe to Adam Isacson

Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
Jamie Larson