Hi, it’s Adam. Still here, still keeping busy, still keeping distant, and still…if not happy, then at least staying even-keeled. Glad to say that everyone I know is in decent health, as far as I know; the few who’ve tested positive are recovering or recovered already. I hope it’s the same with you, and I’m deeply sorry if it’s not.
It’s so weird to have this constant background feeling like a category 5 hurricane is passing over. It’s not even up to the eye yet, there’s a long way to go. But then you go outside and it’s spring: all cherry blossoms, tulips, robins, ducks, increasing daylight, light traffic, and clean air.
Also weird is watching my 15-year-old take on a college student’s school schedule: hours of independent work punctuated by the occasional lecture class. It’s weird getting everything delivered—groceries, Italian food, beer, books, even a long-overdue new computer which I can’t really afford but which is a huge improvement during those long workdays—with huge gratitude to the delivery people whom I end up tipping at extreme arm’s length while making a show of putting my shirt over my face. It’s deeply, vertigo-inducingly weird watching a sociopathic reality TV host make decisions (or fail to make decisions) that mean life or death for millions of people.
People who express themselves far better than I do were having similar thoughts. I got some solace this week from legal journalist Dalia Lithwick and Spanish novelist Javier Cercas.
- Lithwick: “I ask myself as I do these things I’m doing: Does doing this make you feel better or worse? Talking to worried moms usually feels OK. Community is still everything. Gathering to say kaddish with a grieving friend feels better. Laughing with my kids at cat videos feels fantastic. Telling my kids to do things, too many things, feels bad. Fighting about the Democratic primary feels like science fiction.”
- Cercas: “Walter Benjamin wrote that happiness consists in living without fear. These days, with the state of alarm recently declared, in Spain you cannot live without fear (or at least, without fear for the lives of many people). Nor should it be so: courage does not consist in not being afraid —that is recklessness—but in mastering it, doing what needs to be done and moving on. Right now, that’s what it’s about.”
Anyway, here’s some things that I worked on during this weird week.
Colombia “Explainers,” and Other Web Tools
I added a new (and final) section to our resource about Colombia’s peace and post-conflict implementation (aptly titled “colombiapeace.org”) that underwent a full makeover during the past two months. I call this new section “Explainers.”
They’re brief articles that provide basic facts about an aspect of Colombia’s post-conflict reality. They’re never “final.” Anytime I get new information, I’ll update each one to keep them current. Right now, I’ve posted three Explainers: about coca cultivation, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, and protection of ex-combatants. This coming week I expect to put up one “explaining” the ELN, the following week one about territorial governance or “stabilization” programs, and then one summarizing U.S. aid to Colombia. I expect to add about one a week until mid-June or so, by which time there will be 12 to 15 Explainers.
And from that point on, I’ll keep up to date all of the elements of that website, which also include a timeline, important numbers, infographics, links to reports, photos, and videos. I like this sort of “curated archive website” format (I don’t know what else to call it) as a method of keeping up to speed on what is happening. Sites like this never get a large audience, but as we try to uncover truth and gain some “situational awareness,” I find it just as easy to share the raw material of what I learn on the internet as it is to keep it hidden on my hard drive.
Since 2015, I’ve had a similar archive about U.S. security assistance to Latin America. And last week I just reserved a domain name and started building a resource about the border. I’ll be building that over the next few weeks here at home. Unlike the colombiapeace.org site, neither of these resources feature original writing or “explainers.”. They are places to keep important information so that I can find it and refer back to it later, while sharing it with anyone else who might need it.
I’ve been keeping up the pace of a few WOLA Podcasts per week during this special period, and I hope to continue it again this week. Having a meaningful discussion with someone who really knows their stuff is really grounding. Here are last week’s episodes.
- Beyond the ‘Narcostate’ Narrative: Addressing Organized Crime and Corruption in Venezuela—Audio from a March 20, 2020 webinar about criminality and corruption in Venezuela, and the viability of a political exit to the crisis. With WOLA·s Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, Jeremy McDermott of InsightCrime, and investigative journalist Bram Ebus.
- “There are 15,000 people waiting without access to asylum”—Savitri Arvey of the University of California at San Diego's U.S.-Mexico Center has co-written a series of reports documenting U.S. authorities' practice of "metering" asylum seekers along the Mexico border, keeping them in Mexican border towns for weeks or months at a time. With the current COVID-19 border closure, she says, U.S. authorities aren't letting anybody cross to ask for asylum.
- Searching for Mexico’s Disappeared—More than 60,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006. The current government is taking some initial steps to address the crisis. Mariano Machain of SERAPAZ Mexico and Lucy Díaz of the Colectivo Solecito in Veracruz talk with WOLA's Mexico staff.
- “This is the Scenario the Trump Administration Would’ve Liked Since Day One”—Daniella Burgi-Palomino, co-director of the Latin America Working Group, explains the devastating blows that the Trump administration has dealt to the right to seek asylum at the US-Mexico border—and how COVID-19 response has taken it to further extremes.
- Upheaval in Bolivia: Political Crisis, COVID-19, and the Run-up to New Elections—Audio of a March 27 WOLA web discussion of events in Bolivia since the October 2019 general elections and the onset of COVID-19, with analyst Linda Farthing, Robert Albro of American University, and John Walsh, WOLA's director for drug policy and the Andes.
5 Links from the Past Week
- If coronavirus wasn't putting a halt to such things, this week the U.S. government would've sent back to Colombia one of the maximum leaders of the AUC paramilitary group, Salvatore Mancuso, who was extradited to face drug trafficking charges in 2008. In a detailed piece at Canada's National Post, Brian Fitzpatrick tells the story of Mancuso, the AUC, and its "Justice and Peace" demobilization process. He also talks to AUC victims exiled in Canada. (Also noteworthy this week: an El Espectador profile of Carlos Mario Jiménez alias "Macaco," a much-feared AUC leader who the U.S. government sent back to Colombia last July.)
- The Friedrich Ebert Foundation's security program published a brilliant overview of security, defense, U.S. policy, great-power influence, multilateralism, globalism, and the crisis of democracy in Latin America, by Argentine-Spanish analyst Mariano Aguirre, former Obama administration defense official Rebecca Bill Chavez, and former Bachelet administration defense official Marcos Robledo. (The paper is dated January 2020, but was just released this week.)
- In the New York Review of Books, veteran Brazil correspondent Vincent Bevins portrays the country's politics, economy, and human rights situation just over a year into the Bolsonaro administration-within the context of the archconservative president's unhinged coronavirus denialism.
- Another populist president in the region, Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also come under fire for his slow response to the virus. Alex Ward at Vox wrote a nuanced but dire explanation of what's happening there.
- At the New York Times, Nathaniel Popper and Ana Vanessa Herrero profile Gabriel Jiménez, the twentysomething coder whose belief in the liberating power of cryptocurrencies led him to create the Maduro government's "Petro." Jiménez now lives in exile in the United States; his account is rich with details about the Maduro regime. Don't miss the part where Maduro asks Vice President Tareck El Aissami to fix his air conditioner by banging on it.
Web Events that I Know of This Week
Tuesday, March 31
- 4:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Impact of the oil market crash on the major producers in Latin America: A closer look at Brazil and Mexico (RSVP required).
Wednesday, April 1
- 12:00-1:00 at thedialogue.org: Price War Meets Pandemic - Energy's Perfect Storm in Latin America (RSVP required).
Thursday, April 2
- 9:00-10:30 at thedialogue.org: Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Migrants and Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean (RSVP required).
- 11:00 at migrationpolicy.org: COVID-19 in Latin America: Tackling Health Care & Other Impacts for Vulnerable Migrant Populations (RSVP required).
- Here's an analysis a few of us at WOLA posted on March 24 in response to the closure of the U.S.-Mexico border to "inessential" travel. This includes threatened people seeking asylum or protection in the United States, who are being turned away. Essentially, the Trump administration / Stephen Miller are using this crisis to carry out their entire border agenda by fiat. The result is a potential death sentence, once COVID-19 really hits, for people confined in crowded shelters, encampments, and substandard housing in Mexican border towns. This could get really ugly.
- Video of me on Colombia’s Caracol TV, with my terrible New Jersey Spanish accent, talking about the Justice Department’s decision to indict Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.
- Marco Rivadeneira, a longtime campesino leader who cooperated with peace accord coca substitution programs in Putumayo, Colombia, was killed on March 19. It happened blatantly: hitmen on motorcycles came to a meeting in which he was participating, and took him away. But 10 days later, we haven’t heard a thing from Colombia’s authorities about how the investigation is going. What a horrible message that sends to people in rural Colombia who’ve dared to accompany the peace accord’s implementation.
Some Twitter Humor
Here's where I'm spending an incredible amount of time lately. The drink is homemade cold brew, which you should totally have in your fridge for a mid-afternoon kick.