This week will see the first day of spring in Washington, and it’s about time. Even with frequent travel to warmer latitudes, it’s been a very long winter. I’m trying to write this from my backyard, but I think I’m rushing the season—it’s still too cold.
Even trying to keep track of what’s been going on at work is enough to keep one’s mind off the temperature, though. Just in the past two weeks or so:
The House and Senate passed resolutions rejecting Trump’s “national emergency” moving defense funds into border wall-building. The vote in the Senate was surprisingly good, with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in objecting to the president’s power grab. A 59-to-41 vote in the Republican-majority Senate is embarrassing for Trump, but not big enough to override his veto. Action to stop the national emergency will have to happen in the courts, where a suit by 20 state attorneys-general is among several ongoing legal challenges.
Venezuela’s horror is dragging on, with a prolonged blackout. It lasted more than a week in Maracaibo, and we’re now hearing reports of massive looting there. Despite mounting international pressure, Nicolas Maduro still seems to have support where he needs it, even as he orders armed thugs in the colectivos to step up their operations.
Faced with overwhelming evidence that the security forces have misused U.S.-provided vehicles, including in an intimidating show of force against a UN anti-corruption body, the U.S. embassy announced a freeze on all military aid to Guatemala’s government. The announcement was well-timed, as Guatemala’s Congress neared approval of—but failed to reach a quorum on—a bill to amnesty all human rights crimes, even genocide, committed during the 1960-1996 armed conflict.
Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, has lurched to the right after spending his first six months in office as a moderate with bad poll ratings. He appealed to the nation’s Constitutional Court to loosen its standards to allow renewed spraying of the herbicide glyphosate over coca crops, even as another California court hears a case about the chemical’s apparent link to cancer. I wrote a piece reminding everyone what a mistake it would be to re-start fumigation. Then Duque issued a line-item veto of the law underlying the entire post-conflict transitional justice system, throwing the 2016 peace accord into severe uncertainty. The U.S. ambassador cheered. “In a Blow to Truth and Justice, Colombia’s President Puts a Fragile Peace Deal on Life Support,” my WOLA colleague Gimena Sanchez wrote.
The UN’s annual human rights report on Colombia meanwhile raised the volume of its alarms about the slow-motion massacre of social leaders throughout the country.
Mexico’s state legislatures approved a constitutional change creating a new National Guard, a national super-police force that is a pet project of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. While it is less military in nature than originally proposed, the new body will—at least in the next few years—increase still further the military’s involvement in public security.
The Trump administration issued its foreign aid request to Congress for 2020. Though it is “dead on arrival” in the legislature, we wrote this week while crunching the numbers, it’s still worth a look because “it illustrates the Trump administration’s dark, reactive, and uncreative posture toward Latin America’s complex opportunities and challenges.”
Brazil’s extremist president, Jair Bolsonaro, will be coming this week to visit Trump, a week after the first anniversary of the unsolved murder of Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco. It’s going to be an ugly spectacle. We have to do everything we can to ensure that it will be remembered just as a misguided accident of this time in history—when social media and struggling mass media were hijacked by populists—and not a glimpse of a divisive, authoritarian future.
So many hearings
Having an opposition-led House of Representatives means proper oversight, for the first time in way too long. This is wonderful. Congress is out this coming week, but so far in March, we’ve seen the following hearings.
- Hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on New Government, Ongoing Agenda: Human Rights, Corruption and Accountability in El Salvador.
- Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on H.R. 1004, Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act.
- Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues on U.S.-Venezuela Relations and the Path to a Democratic Transition.
- Hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management, and Accountability on CBP Workforce Challenges: Exploring Solutions to Address Recruitment and Retention.
- Hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on The Way Forward on Border Security.
- Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oversight of Customs and Border Protection's Response to the Smuggling of Persons at the Southern Border.
- Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Protecting Dreamers and TPS Recipients.
- Hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies on The 2019 National Emergency Declaration to Build a Border Wall & its Effect on Military Construction and Readiness.
- Hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs on Oversight of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Programs and Policies.
- Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on The Trump Administration's Foreign Policy: A Mid-Term Assessment.
- Hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on Reviewing the Administration's Unaccompanied Children Program.
- Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations on A Global Crisis: Refugees, Migrants and Asylum Seekers.
- Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade on Made by Maduro: The Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela and U.S. Policy Responses.
- Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Oversight of the Trump Administration's Family Separation Policy.
- Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on United States Strategic Command and United States Northern Command.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve been able to keep up with all of this. But I’ve got all of the audios saved as .mp3 files in this giant archive. Copy some onto your phone and listen to them like podcasts. Podcasts that will, quite often, make you angry.
So many podcasts
Speaking of which—I didn’t make a conscious plan to start putting out weekly WOLA podcasts this month, but that’s what’s happening.
- February 28: What’s Next in Venezuela?
- March 8: A Humanitarian Crisis, Not a National Emergency
- March 13: Security, Impunity, and Reform in El Salvador
Sometime this week, I’ll be recording another one about Guatemala. So if you haven’t, add the WOLA Podcast to your favorite app’s list of subscriptions. I don’t promise to keep them weekly.
On the personal front
I’m here in Washington for the next three weeks. Doing a lot of writing, public speaking, and Capitol Hill visits. I plan to spend the week of April 8 in San Diego and Tijuana, my third trip to that part of the border so far this year. Upon my return, I’ll start drafting a big report based on these weeks of fieldwork.