This was one of those weeks when everything feels like it’s happening at once. (In this line of work, such weeks tend to concentrate between February and May, and again in the fall.) I had 16 or 17 appointments on the calendar, colleagues from Colombia in town, Congress fully in session with at least four worthwhile hearings, a day spent at a conference in New York, and lots of e-mail inquiries from scholars, as universities are mid-semester right now. And at the end of the week, the 9th Circuit gave us all a bizarre whiplash experience, with an injunction-and-stay that briefly halted (and may again halt?) the noxious “Remain in Mexico” program at the border. I love this week's pace—this is what the job is all about—though I’ll confess to feeling stretched a bit thin right now.
Colombian Peace and Security: The Numbers
This week I was also coding and writing our “new” (really, “renovated”) colombiapeace.org website, the main topic of last week’s e-mail. I changed a lot of the look and feel, and added a lot of informational updates.
Most usefully, there’s now an “important numbers” section, with the most up-to-date statistics on a growing list of topics. Here’s a sample, the section on “Public Security”:
- Homicides in Colombia dropped from 12,923 cases in 2018 to 12,825 cases in 2019, according to President Duque who said, "In 2019 we had one of the lowest homicide rates that the country has seen since 1974."
- The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reports: "According to the police, the national homicide rate in 2019 was 25 per 100,000 persons, which reflects an endemic level of violence. The World Health Organization considers there is endemic violence when the homicide rate is above 10 per 100,000 inhabitants."
- OHCHR counted 36 massacres in 2019, involving 133 deaths, the most since 2014. (A massacre is "when three or more persons are killed in the same incident [same place and time] by the same alleged perpetrators.") They occurred most often in Antioquia, Cauca and Norte de Santander.
- The government counted 92 kidnappings in 2019, down from 176 in 2018.
- President Duque claimed a 33% reduction in attacks on oil pipelines from 2018 to 2019.
A Talk on Militarization in Latin America
I also got to do some public speaking this week: guest-lecturing a session of the Andean Republics seminar at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, and talking at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice about “the military-industrial complex”—a term I rarely use—in today’s Latin America. Here are a few slides from that talk; I embedded the whole 38-page show up at my site.
As you can see, a lot of aid, sales, and budgets are down from the Plan Colombia, Mérida Initiative, and "commodity boom" years (2000-2012 or so).
The point I was trying trying to make: at a time of reduced U.S. aid and military budgets, talking about Latin America’s “military-industrial complex” explains little. Though its defense sectors' budgets and economic power aren't growing, the region is undergoing a very troubling trend of militarization (for want of a better term): the use of armed forces for political purposes, and in roles that should correspond to civilians. I’ve written about that elsewhere recently.
5 Links from the Past Week
- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released its annual report on Colombia, and it’s really good. It’s in English and Spanish, and it angered Colombian officials. I posted highlights of the report elsewhere.
- Writing for the International Crisis Group, Bram Ebus produced a vivid and alarming look at life in Venezuelan refugee communities on the Colombian side of the northern part of the binational border.
- Physicians for Human Rights carried out psychological evaluations of 17 adults and 9 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and “found pervasive symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma.”
- Amnesty International produced its annual country-by-country overview of the human rights situation in Latin America, putting particular emphasis on government repression of social protest. It has a great cover.
- A team of reporters from Colombia’s La Silla Vacía profiles demobilized FARC guerrillas who have been resisting “dissident” groups’ calls on them to re-arm. Richly detailed, with an accompanying podcast episode.
Here’s a list of nine Latin America-related events happening in Washington this week. There are congressional hearings about USAID, Haiti, and the border on the schedule.
Here are links to nine Latin America-relevant government reports I tracked down in February.
And finally, if you share any of my awful late-middle-age hipster indie-pop tastes, here’s a playlist of songs that I had on heavy rotation in February.