Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #23

Though there are a few cases here in Washington DC now, coronavirus hasn’t really affected life and work here yet. Congress is in full session and holding many hearings this week (including two relevant to Latin America), the universities are in session, music venues and restaurants are full, there's plenty of traffic on the roads. There are signs, though: you can book a flight to Bogotá, leaving DC this very morning, for only $407 round trip.

Lots of people were out this morning when I took a jog by the Potomac.

You're not really "going to have to spray"

Last Monday Washington had an unannounced visit from Colombian President Iván Duque. “This was scheduled very quickly, over the weekend,” President Trump said when the two met. Trump then admonished Duque, “you’re going to have to spray” to get rid of coca. Then on Thursday, the White House dropped its estimate of Colombia’s 2019 coca cultivation. (Way earlier than usual: these estimates usually don’t come out until June or so.)

The news is rough: even though Duque’s government sent manual eradicators to get rid of 100,000 hectares of coca last year, the amount under cultivation didn’t budge—in fact, it slightly broke the record for highest U.S. government estimate. Meanwhile, even though you’d expect Colombia’s coca market to be glutted, farmers are enjoying a big rise in prices. Daniel Rico hypothesized in February that the rise owes to more competition among a larger number of buyers.

U.S. pressure on Colombia to spray herbicides from aircraft is greater than ever, despite the policy’s huge downsides. WOLA put out a release on Friday warning against a turn back to the spray program, which was suspended in 2015 for public health reasons.

I wanted to complement that by trying something new: using a brief video for rapid response. As an experiment, I put my phone in a tripod and threw together a script and some basic visuals. It took more than 12 takes to get it right, mainly because Twitter’s maximum for video embeds is 2 minutes, 20 seconds and I kept going over. But here’s what I came up with. It got more than 5,500 views, so I think it was an experiment worth repeating and improving on.

Coca in Colombia: Govern, Don't Fumigate on Vimeo

Colombia Infographics

The new coca numbers meant updating an infographic of which I’ve used variations for years, showing the long history of coca and eradication in Colombia.

This and several other graphics I use often (U.S. aid, Colombia security measures) now live online. Last Tuesday, I added a new “Infographics” section to our renovated colombiapeace.org website. Check them out at colombiapeace.org/infographics.

Border Graphics, Too

While we’re talking charts and graphics, CBP released its February data on migration at the U.S-Mexico border, which I used to update 20 running graphics. These are available as a regularly updated PDF file that lives at the easy-to-remember address bit.ly/wola_border. Here are a few.

Apprehensions of migrants were up ever so slightly in February. But all of the increase was single adults. Children and families, who tend to seek apprehension and ask for protection, aren't coming. That's because the Trump administration has all but eradicated the ability to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border right now.
Arrivals of single adults are not declining, and remain slightly above the past 8 years' trendline.
Mexico's migrant apprehensions jumped in January. That was mainly because of that month's ill-fated "caravan" of Hondurans, which Mexico's National Guard pretty much dismantled within a few miles of the Guatemala border.
The fiscal year is nearly half over, and cocaine seizures at the border are way behind pace. The DEA's last "threat assessment" report speculated that traffickers may be sending more cocaine to other markets where it gets a better price, and that the U.S. market is saturated.
Something is really up with meth seizures, though, which are nearing a new annual record only five months into the fiscal year.

Again, the rest of those graphics—more than 30 of them—are at http://bit.ly/wola_border.

Colombia Peace Timeline Through February

Returning briefly to Colombia: I added a month’s worth of updates to the new Timeline of “what happened in peace and security in Colombia” at colombiapeace.org. I find this page hugely useful: keeping it up to date takes several hours each month, but makes me much smarter about what’s happening in a country that I work on a lot. Pay a visit and see what you may have missed.

Later this month I may develop a similar resource for our border work, now that I’ve got the infrastructure working.

  • Every few months, a team of researchers at the University of California at San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and the University of Texas’s Strauss Center surveys U.S.-Mexico border crossings and summarizes the “metering” situation at each one: how many people are waiting, who runs the list, how many people CBP typically takes in a day. In their latest “Metering Update,” they count 15,000 people waiting—a big drop from the past, due to the near impossibility of winning asylum at the border. Most are now Mexican.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Colombia released its annual report, and it is grim. They emphasize increases in landmine victims, confinement of communities, and attacks on medical personnel.
  • As Mexican women prepare for a day of nationwide protest on March 9 against targeted violence, Valeria Durán and Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad published an incredible report and multimedia presentation documenting how badly the country’s justice system has failed women who are victims of violence.
  • It seems like a no-brainer that demobilized FARC fighters would be excellent mine clearance personnel. Their group laid most of the mines. A key obstacle, though: no matter how committed they are to the peace process, they can’t get a dime in U.S. aid money—not even to attend a U.S.-funded conference—because the FARC is still on the U.S. list of terrorist groups. Andrés Bermúdez Liévano reports at justiceinfo.net.
  • At Honduras’s ContraCorriente, Fernando Silva discusses the torturous route of the country’s recent police reform efforts, which have really been thousands of politicized mass firings instead of institutional reform. “Since Juan Orlando Hernández hasn’t managed to give the Military Police constitutional status [as a permanent branch of the armed forces], he’s doing away with the civilian police so that the Military Police may occupy its space,” a former police commissioner tells Silva.

And Here is a Short List of Events Happening in Washington this Week

Latin America-related events in Washington this week

Finally, can I just mention that I haven’t missed a weekly newsletter in 10 weeks? That smashes all my prior streaks.

Hope you're enjoying these. Have a good week, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face.

Subscribe to Adam Isacson

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