Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #24

I hope your first several days of social distancing and toilet-paper hoarding have gone well. I also hope you’re in good health and looking out for more vulnerable family members and neighbors. (If you’re home with small children without school or daycare, though, I don’t know what to tell you.)

It’s been interesting to learn what people choose to make a run on in the supermarket, hasn't it.

Warning: I’m one of those annoying “Newton invented calculus and Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ while in quarantine” people

In the midst of all this, I’m one of the lucky ones. My job requires teamwork in order to generate change, but a lot of the tangible products we use as tools for that—websites, reports, podcasts, memos—require long stretches of solitude to produce. And now I’m looking an unprecedented amount of time spent in solitude, doing research and writing in my home office.

I think I have a reputation at work for whining about too many meetings, too many events, and too much travel keeping me from doing that “tangible” work. But that’s all gone now: over the next five weeks I’d planned to be in Pennsylvania, Florida, Colombia, and Texas, and now I’m not. Here at home, I’m not too tied down with childcare: my daughter is now old enough to babysit others’ kids, in fact. I don’t have to feel guilty about skipping the gym. I don’t watch much sports anyway.

For me, it’s time to help out in the community to the extent that’s advisable, and then to get to work on projects I never have time for. There are so many to choose from: I did a post on Thursday listing some of what’s possible to do now.

  • We can record a new WOLA podcast every day, or close to it—and anyone I’d want to interview is also grounded with more free time than usual. I’ve got a few lined up already.
  • I can keep adding to our revamped colombiapeace.org resource. If you want something to read while shut in, that page’s “Reports” section now has links to 45 reports (by us, other NGOs, governments, UN, media) published just since the holidays. By Monday there should be a few new “explainer” pages there, in the site’s final new section. One about disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration that’s done already; one about attacks on social leaders; one on “territorial stabilization.” And I’ll keep adding them.
  • I can make a similar site/resource for my border work. Not with regular commentaries posted to it, like the Colombia page—that would be too much. But I need some infrastructure to help me keep track of what is going on across priorities (migration flows, dismantling of asylum, wall building, military deployments, concerns about CBP and Border Patrol, Mexico’s security and migration policy—the variety of urgent topics is dizzying). Now would be a good time to build something that, while helping my work on the back-end, is also available to the public.
  • I can update our 2017 resource about military aid programs: we had put together a listing/description of more than 100 programs that the State and Defense Departments can use to provide assistance to foreign militaries and police. It’d be great to have time once again to update that, combing closely through the last few years' defense, homeland, and foreign operations bills and committee reports. I'd especially like to get a list of all the reports to Congress that these bills required, copies of which we should be working harder to get our hands on.
  • I can do more “video explainers” for rapid response. The unpolished “sitting at my desk” video about fumigation in Colombia that I did on March 6 ended up getting 5,800 views on Twitter alone. I can do those at home easily enough.
  • We can do more English-language explainers about issues in Colombia that hardly make it into English reporting. We could write a mini-report with “everything we know about the US military at the border right now.” We can start digging more into institutional cultural issues at U.S. border agencies. I can learn a bit more coding, and especially take information security to the next level.

There are more possibilities than there is time, even with all the hours of solitude I’ll be likely to have here at home in the coming weeks or months.

I hope that you’re also finding a big looming mass of unstructured time opening up on your own schedule, and that, if so, the ideas for new things to do are just raining down on you too. I totally understand and apologize for my sunny outlook, though, if your job, health, income stream, or home situation will make the next few weeks or months a nightmare.

Colombia’s peace accord is three years old, but a demobilized guerrilla still can’t attend a U.S.-funded meeting.

Colombia’s La Silla Vacía published a Spanish version of a piece I posted to colombiapeace.org on Thursday, arguing that the U.S. government must immediately stop labeling as “terrorists” the thousands of demobilized rank-and-file FARC members who are cooperating with the peace process. It’s absurd and it’s actually hurting U.S. interests in Colombia.

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If this is truly the reason why peace process-respecting former guerrillas remain on the terrorist list, there's an easy remedy that doesn't necessarily even require removing a group called "FARC" from the terrorist list. The U.S. government just needs to reinterpret the existing statute in a way that distinguishes between dissident groups and demobilized guerrillas. If the current interpretation has painted U.S. programming into a corner, then that interpretation needs to be updated for the reality of Colombia in 2020.

“The retreat of peace is the retreat of truth and memory, too”

I really liked this March 10 El Tiempo interview with Gonzalo Sánchez, the former head of Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH). This Center was first created by the 2005 "Justice and Peace" law that governed the AUC paramilitaries' demobilization, then strengthened by the 2011 Victims' Law that President Juan Manuel Santos promoted after taking office. It had academic autonomy from the government, and its team of scholars published dozens of studies of what happened in the conflict, basing them heavily on victims' accounts. The CNMH's crowning achievement was a 2013 report, Basta Ya! Memorias de guerra y dignidad, which as its title indicates, sought to recount Colombia's conflict from a perspective of victims' memories while upholding their dignity. (Disclosure: I was on the CNMH International Consultative Committee during the "Basta Ya" period.)

Gonzalo Sánchez left the CNMH directorship when Colombia changed presidential administrations. The government of Iván Duque eventually replaced him in February 2019 with Darío Acevedo, a hard-right historian who, in at least one prior media interview, had questioned whether what happened in Colombia should even be considered an armed conflict. Acevedo has been busy attacking his predecessors at the Center and signing an agreement with Colombia's cattlemen's federation-many of whose members are victims of the FARC, but many of whom were also some of the principal sponsors of paramilitary groups. Victims' and human rights groups have begun withdrawing the documents they had entrusted to the Center's archives, and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a global network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives, expelled the CNMH on February 3.

As he has a new book out, Gonzalo Sánchez is doing rounds of media interviews. He has mostly avoided commenting on the downfall of the National Center for Historical Memory, other than to express sadness, not to respond to his successor's personal attacks.

His interview with Armando Neira of El Tiempo, though, was so good I've read through it twice. I posted an English translation of a particularly strong and lengthy excerpt.

  • “Death and the Maiden” author Ariel Dorfman, now in his late 70s, has a reflection in the New York Review of Books about Chile’s recent wave of protest. The Argentine-Chilean novelist, playwright, and activist weaves first-person reporting in with his long own experience of hope and disenchantment.
  • At El Faro, Efren Lemus, Óscar Martínez, and Carlos Martínez offer a behind-the-scenes look at all of the back-and-forth last February 9 in El Salvador, when President Nayib Bukele invited himself into the Congress along with a retinue of heavily armed soldiers. Really interesting discussion of the role of foreign ambassadors, including U.S. Ambassador Ronald Johnson.
  • At Animal Político, Mexican security expert Raúl Benitez looks at how civil-military relations are developing during the López Obrador government, with particular focus on the new National Guard, which which Mexico “passes from two armed forces to three.”
  • At WOLA, Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde analyze some previously unreleased U.S. Southern Command data on drug trafficking patterns and determine that the “narco-state” narrative—which some use to argue against a negotiated end to the crisis—is overblown. Also on Venezuela, the International Crisis Group thoroughly unpacks what would be needed to get negotiations on track, and what should be on the table.
  • Amazon Watch released a report about increasing oil investments in the ecologically fragile western Amazon, and points the finger at five U.S.-based banks and asset managers.

Instead of “upcoming events in Washington,” here are a couple of upcoming webinars.

This is what I’ve seen. As most places cancel events, I may have missed some that are switching to a webinar format. Also, I’m used to searching for DC-area events, not online events everywhere. If you know of any other public online events of interest to Latin America—anywhere in the world, not just in Washington—let me know in the comments, and I’ll add them.

Friday, March 20, 2020

  • 9:30–11:00 at wola.org: Beyond the ‘Narcostate’ Narrative: Addressing Organized Crime and Corruption in Venezuela (RSVP required).
  • 12:00–1:30 at thedialogue.org: Petroleum & Politics – South America’s Smaller and Emerging Oil & Gas Producers (RSVP required).

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Jamie Larson