In Latin America, this was a grim week. (I write that sentence a lot, I think.) The number of social leaders murdered in Colombia already this year surpassed 20, while the country's military got itself embroiled in a big new wiretapping scandal. Venezuelan opposition legislators got pursued and attacked by pro-government colectivos. Honduras shut down an OAS anti-corruption body, apparently because it was doing its job. And thousands of Hondurans left their country en masse, again, attempting a new “caravan” even though Mexico—under intense White House pressure—is sure to crack down.
For me, it was a week of long beginning-of-year planning meetings and preparations for next week: on Monday, I’m going back to El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. This time, I’m taking a group of WOLA staff and supporters to learn about what’s happening there (as laid out in a long memo I wrote a month ago after my last visit). In next week’s email, I’ll talk about what I saw and heard.
Trump to seize more border wall money
Meanwhile, we learned in last Monday evening's Washington Post that our president plans to take another $7.2 billion out of the Defense Department's budget and put it into the border wall that he couldn't convince Congress to pay for. If he gets his way, more than three out of every four dollars in border-wall money will have gone without congressional approval.
This sort of rule by decree is what we've seen in Latin America when democracies start giving way to dictatorship.
A new commentary at WOLA's website breaks down what's happening: the amounts involved, the convoluted way Trump is wresting the money from defense and avoiding Congress's constitutional checks, and the situation in the courts, where our best hope lies.
An overview of security and the arms trade in Latin America right now
On Tuesday I spoke at a great conference hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade at the Stimson Center, "Beyond the Headlines: Redefining Responsibility in the Arms Trade." Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) gave great opening remarks, and then the panels were really timely and action-oriented.
I gave the overview of Latin America. I come on at around the 1 hour and 5 minute mark in the video above.
Five links from the past week
- Colombia's Semana magazine started the week with a bombshell scoop. The country's army has been spying on, and hacking into the communications of, opposition politicians, high court judges, reporters (including Semana's), human rights groups, and even other officers. The magazine claims that a mid-December Supreme Court search of an army installation where the hacking was happening is what precipitated the Army chief's post-Christmas resignation. Over the past year, the magazine notes, officers concerned about this and other scandals have been forced out and replaced by others whose records are so questionable that they are already facing investigations.
- Alex Cuadros spent a lot of time with former and current gang members who have adopted evangelical Christianity in Rio de Janeiro's favelas. The result is a good long read in Harper's. My favorite is the gang-tied pastor who told Harper's fact-checkers that Cuadros's "account was 'all lies' and that [Cuadros] was possessed by the devil."
- U.S. authorities have sent more than 143 Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers-including families-to Guatemala, to go seek asylum there. Kevin Sieff reports in the Washington Post from Guatemala City that they're often not even being told which country they're going to. And once they arrive, "The Guatemalan government is completely absent in this whole process."
- Colombia's coca-growers are better organized than they were before the FARC peace process. But when huge nationwide protests broke out in November, the cocaleros' participation was minimal. With Iván Duque's government starting the year with a draft decree to restart aerial herbicide fumigation in coca-growing areas, that's about to change. The growers are now starting to mobilize, Juanita Vélez reports in La Silla Vacía.
- On Friday Honduras's government failed to reach an agreement with the OAS and will shut down the MACCIH, an anti-corruption body similar to (though always weaker than) Guatemala's defunct CICIG. Days earlier, my WOLA colleagues Elyssa Pachico, Adriana Beltrán, and Adeline Hite wrote a useful explanation of MACCIH's accomplishments, the disastrous record of President Juan Orlando Hernández, and how the Trump administration basically gave a green light to corruption in exchange for Hernández making concessions on migration, like taking other countries' asylum seekers.
I’ll be back in touch when I get back from the border.