Hi, thanks for reading. I very much hope that you're well, and that you stay well.
For me at least, this first week of "work at home" wasn't as isolated and meditative as I'd expected. It wasn't Walden Pond: there were virtual meetings—some that went well, some that didn't quite make sense. There were many e-mails and alerts to respond to, especially near the end of the week when the White House closed the Mexico border to "non-essential" travel (we're still trying to understand what that means for asylum seekers). There was, thankfully, a lot of just reaching out to people and getting reached out to.
I still count myself among the luckiest in this circumstance, here at home, employed for now, with people I love. But I'm having moments of overwhelming sadness and powerlessness. How can you not? Go out for a half-hour of exercise and pass businesses that provided income for thousands, dark with paper signs taped to their doors. Think about people incarcerated, in immigrant detention, or stuck in Mexican border towns' migrant shelters and encampments awaiting asylum interviews that may not come. Be terrified for people in countries, like Honduras or Venezuela, that this virus is going to slice through like a chainsaw. Rage at leaders without a shred of empathy or knowledge about how to run a complex government, as they downplay reality, spreading misinformation and lies while hospitals and governors scream for help.
To the extent there's a response to this, it's along the lines of the Serenity Prayer: let the sadness and anger flow about things you can't control, but get really serious about the things that you can control. Stay at home and avoid contact. Share only verified, credible information (please!). Be a source of reassurance and presence for people whose anxiety is more acute than yours. Put toxic people "on mute" and don't engage them. Let elderly neighbors know before you go on a grocery run. If you have skills for which your community needs volunteers, give of your time. Recognize when you're going down a social media or cable news rabbit hole and pull yourself out. Hug your family. Hug them again.
Four Podcasts, for Your Listening Enjoyment
Everybody we know is home and on the internet, being “socially distant” for the good of society. Why not start recording conversations with them?
I usually put WOLA’s podcast out 1-2 times per month because my schedule is cramped, and so are those of anyone I’d want to interview. I often spend as much time on the e-mail back-and-forth arranging episodes as I do recording them.
Not so now. I recorded four last week, and plan to keep up a similar pace this coming week:
- Women Coca and Poppy Growers Mobilizing for Social Change: With WOLA Senior Fellow Coletta Youngers and Senior Program Associate Teresa García Castro, discussing their February 28 report about women coca and poppy growers in Bolivia and Colombia.
- “I Could Listen to Colombians, Especially in the Countryside, Talk All Day”: with veteran journalist Toby Muse, author of Kilo: Inside the Deadliest Cocaine Cartels – From the Jungles to the Streets, which comes out on March 24.
- “Guerrilla Marketing” in Colombia: with Alex Fattal, whose 2018 book Guerrilla Marketing tells the story of the Colombian military’s employment of advertising campaigns to convince guerrillas to demobilize during the country’s armed conflict.
- Peru’s Anti-Corruption Reform Drive: an overview of the current political moment in Peru with Cynthia McClintock of George Washington University. An ongoing anti-corruption drive, spurred by the good work of investigative reporters and prosecutors, has been a relative good news story.
Five Links from the Past Week
- The Americas Society / Council of the Americas has been keeping an updated record, using the Johns Hopkins database and other sources, of how coronavirus is affecting 19 Latin American countries plus Puerto Rico, and how governments are responding.
- At The New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson interviews Evo Morales, Jeanine Añez, and many others for a detailed report on the complexities of an increasingly tense Bolivia.
- The U.S. Government Accountability Office put out a report on family separations at the border that, under normal circumstances, would have been a bombshell: even now, “it is unclear whether Border Patrol has accurate records of all separated parents and children in its automated data system.”
- At Nicaragua’s La Prensa, Eduardo Cruz recounts the history of the country’s national police force, which underwent post-conflict reforms that the current government has almost fully reversed. Today, the police are “the guardians of the Ortega-Murillo dynasty.”
- At Oxford American, Emily Gogolak spends time in Dilley, Texas, home to one of two large ICE-managed, privately-run detention centers for migrant families.
Six Latin America-Related Online Events that I Know of This Week:
All times are Eastern Daylight Time.
Monday, March 23
- 11:30–12:30 at wilsoncenter.org: The Effect of the Coronavirus on Latin American Economies
- 1:00–2:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Latin America’s response to COVID–19
Tuesday, March 24
- 11:30 at migrationpolicy.org: Migration & Coronavirus: A Complicated Nexus Between Migration Management and Public Health
Thursday, March 26
- 10:00–11:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Evaluating the Impact of COVID–19 in Mexico
- 12:15–1:15 at wola.org: Colombia’s Defiant Peace Communities: Non-Violent Self-Protection Strategies When Armed Groups Fail to Respect Civilians
Friday, March 27
- 11:00–12:30 at wola.org: Upheaval in Bolivia: Political Crisis, COVID–19, and the Run-up to New Elections
Humor is Important
There’s a need for humor in these times—and not the dark, unintentional kind you see in White House briefings.