Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #14

I dislike new year’s resolutions: if you want to change a habit, you need to work at it all year, not just around an arbitrary date. It’s hard.

But still, I solemnly resolve here to write these updates more often in 2020. I haven’t sent one since November 1, and only two since April. That’s just wrong: there’s a lot to talk about.

In my defense, I got pulled away by a lot of travel. When I wrote that last one, I was just back from Bogotá and Florida State University. Over the next six weeks, I went on to San Diego/Tijuana, Kent State University, and El Paso/Ciudad Juárez. All together, I took 16 work trips in 2019. That had me in seats on 53 airplanes. That much travel is great—it’s a key part of the job, and a reason I wanted to work in this field—but it does make it hard to get into a groove and write regularly.

The Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, December 12.

No excuses, though. I’ll be more regular this year. And in fact, I did get a lot of writing done in those last two months of 2019. Here is some, in case you missed it.

  • We published a report about our August field research along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. It’s called The “Wall” Before the Wall: Mexico’s Crackdown on Migration at its Southern Border. It talks about National Guardsmen, migrants in detention, people seeking asylum, corruption, and the U.S. role. When Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected in 2018, what we saw in 2019 was the opposite of what we expected to happen. The Trump administration’s tariff threats caused a crackdown leaving thousands of people stranded.
  • I was in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez on December 11-13. What I saw and heard there troubled me so much, I set out to write a memo about it the moment I got back. Five days later, 12,000 words and several photos had spilled out of me. I posted the memo to WOLA’s website on December 19, just before the holiday. I’m glad it has received a good response (downloads and social media traffic).
  • Also in December, concerned about Latin American militaries’ increasingly political roles amid a wave of turmoil, I posted a commentary, “What is Latin America’s Political Turmoil Doing to Civilian Control of the Military?” While I don’t see a new era of military dictatorships coming, I do see five worrying trends as the generals get stronger and the elected civilians get weaker.
  • I helped write this joint statement calling for a moratorium on sales of crowd-control items to Colombia’s security forces, which had responded brutally to those participating in the initial days of protests in Bogotá.
  • On November 25, as those protests entered their fifth day, I posted a reflection about what they mean. I called it Colombia Will Never Be the Same.
  • Remember in November when President Trump said he was going to put Mexican organized-crime groups on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations? I posted a piece explaining some of the possible consequences of doing that.

I apologize for dumping so much reading on you all at once like that. This is why I need to send these e-mails more frequently, to space things out a bit.

The border fence where it hits the Pacific Ocean, seen from Tijuana, November 6.

But one more thing. On October 30, I gave a lecture at Florida State University entitled Saving Colombia’s Fragile Peace. It’s a version of the “Colombia 101” talk that I give several times per year, usually at colleges, when the organizers allow me to talk for as long as I want. That gives me time to cover the whole Colombia “origin story”: the armed conflict and its causes, U.S. policy and the drug war, the peace process, and today’s security challenges.

Here, I go on for 55 minutes, plus Q&A. But the FSU producers did a great job with the video’s sound and with embedding my dozens of maps, charts, and photos.

"Saving Colombia's Fragile Peace" Adam Isacson, October 30, 2019

Oh and finally, I might as well throw some audio at you, too. We put out three WOLA podcasts in November and December. That’s another thing I plan to do more regularly in 2020, so please search for “WOLA Podcast” on your podcast app of choice and subscribe (Apple podcasts / Spotify / Libsyn).

Again, sorry for this “data dump.” Next week, I’ll offer some reflections about what awaits my work on security, defense, borders, and conflict resolution in our hemisphere in 2020. From the disappearance of asylum at the border, to the imminent flights of herbicide spray planes in Colombia, to the antics of populists and the confrontations between soldiers and protesters region-wide, it's going to be a meat grinder of a year, with the U.S. elections constantly in the background (or the foreground).

For now, though, I’m still thinking that through and would rather not post something half-baked. So happy new year.

At Kent State University in Ohio, where I gave a talk about the border wall on November 15, a parking lot has blocked-off spaces marking where student protesters fell to U.S. National Guard bullets on May 4, 1970.

Subscribe to Adam Isacson

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