Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #13

It's been a dizzying two weeks since I last wrote. I returned from Colombia, had eight days in Washington, then spent a couple of days in Tallahassee, Florida. There, Florida State University's Center for Global Engagement, and its College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, made me feel very welcome. I spoke about Colombia as part of the University's Broad International Lecture Series, and talked about both Colombia and the U.S.-Mexico border with a few classes, and met with students to talk about what it's like to make a career out of studying and doing policy advocacy on Latin America.

Late on my final evening, I enjoyed watching my hometown Washington Nationals win their first-ever World Series from my downtown Tallahassee hotel room, while packing my bags to return home.

It's also been a dizzying time in Latin America, with elections in Argentina, Bolivia, and Colombia; unrest in Bolivia, Chile, and Haiti; Ecuador dealing with the aftermath of unrest; and Mexico dealing with the aftermath of the botched operation against Chapo Guzmán's son in Culiacán, Sinaloa.

Through all of this, a theme that deserves very close attention is how, when in trouble politically, the region's democratically elected civilian leaders are turning so readily to the military. "We are seeing a new justification for militarization: to deal with organized civil society," Amherst College's Javier Corrales ominously warned last week in Americas Quarterly. At the New York Times today, Max Fisher draws a similar conclusion after talking to several academic experts: "Every cycle of crisis risks heightening perceptions of the military as a partisan institution and weakening taboos against its involvement."

Chile's president, Sebastián Piñera, appears on national television surrounded by military commanders as he orders a curfew following mass street protests.

Here in the United States, while I was on the road this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released its end-of-fiscal-year numbers detailing all of the migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border during 2019. This year saw a big increase in migration to the United States—but all of the increase was asylum-seeking children and families, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Single adults remained flat, at decades-low levels:

All the growth was in the green part of this chart: kids and families.

All year, two out of every three migrants apprehended at the border were a child or parent. Nothing like that has ever happened before. But by cracking down on asylum-seekers—keeping them from approaching ports of entry, sending well over 60,000 to await hearings in Mexico, and urging Mexico to deploy soldiers wearing "National Guard" armbands—the Trump administration reduced the child and family numbers, temporarily at least, during the past few months. By September, the majority of apprehended migrants were one again single adults, and were once again Mexican citizens. For now.

I'll be posting more analysis of these border trends soon.

In better news, Colombians went to the polls in mayoral and gubernatorial elections on October 27, and the results included some pleasant surprises. Progressive and social movement-tied candidates won big in major cities and a few other important regions. Unlike most of the world right now, the parties of authoritarian-leaning populists, both right and left, performed poorly. Big corrupt political machines remain strong but suffered some key reversals. And a longtime colleague who got her start in Colombia's NGO community, anti-corruption crusader Claudia López, is going to be Bogotá's next mayor—the first woman to run this city of over 8 million. I posted a rundown of the election results late on October 29.

Bogotá's mayor-elect, Claudia López (third from right), on Capitol Hill with us in October 2018, after appearing as a panelist at our annual Colombia peace conference.

Earlier today, I posted an explainer about a much darker development in Colombia. A detailed investigation at the country's main newsmagazine, Semana, found that the armed forces had premeditated, then covered up, the April murder of Dimar Torres, a demobilized FARC member. This, plus some horrific attacks on indigenous people in the southwestern department of Cauca this week, show Colombia's defense sector badly adrift, moving in the wrong direction at a critical time—but despite regular displays of incompetence, a politically connected defense minister remains at his job.

Some other sad news from Colombia: Alfredo Molano died of heart failure at age 75. A scholar and journalist, Molano was a tireless chronicler of life at Colombia's margins, traveling to remote corners of the country and listening to what people had to say. He published books about the colonization of Colombia's far-off jungles and plains, about life amid the FARC, conditions in prisons, the experience of drug mules, and much more. His column in El Espectador was essential reading, and he was an excellent choice to be a member of Colombia's Truth Commission, a duty that is now interrupted. I had the pleasure of meeting with him a few times over the years—he was easygoing and patient, and brimming with information. His passing is a big loss, and my thoughts are with his son Alfredo, a journalist who chronicled the FARC peace negotiations at El Espectador.

Commissioner Alfredo Molano, in jeans and leather jacket, at the December 2017 launch of Colombia's Truth Commission.

Finally, two other resources worth a look (or a listen).

297: Adam Isacson of WOLA speaks to Colombia Calling

297: Adam Isacson of WOLA speaks to Colombia Calling

While in Bogotá, I sat down with Richard McColl to record an episode of his excellent "Colombia Calling" podcast. He gave me strong coffee, and we covered a lot of issues.

Q&A: How Likely—and How Costly—is a Potential Colombia-Venezuela Military Clash? - Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

Q&A: How Likely—and How Costly—is a Potential Colombia-Venezuela Military Clash? - Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

My WOLA colleague Geoff Ramsey, who runs our Venezuela program, and I recorded a conversation about the possibility—unlikely, but not outrageously unlikely—of conflict between Colombia and Venezuela. He then published it as a cleaned-up transcript at their Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog.

Looking into a new month, the pace is bound to remain, well, dizzying. On November 4 I'm off to the airport again, spending a few days in San Diego and Tijuana. I'll write about that, and probably much else, when I get back. Until then, thanks for reading.

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Jamie Larson