April is nearly over, the end of social distancing remains out of sight, and here in the United States we keep learning more and more about how hollowed out our institutions are. The size of the rebuilding job we'll all need to do is daunting. Still, I'm feeling grateful for so many people around me who are continuing to put out their best work every day.
In my organization, in my community of researchers, human rights defenders, and activists, in academia, in the media, and even in a few corners of government, I could name dozens if not hundreds of people who've moved me in the past few weeks. Not with their hot takes on social media, but with their dogged one-on-one advocacy, their clever storytelling, their digging up of new information, their videos, podcasts, and graphical stories, even just their angry letters and releases.
It's easy (and necessary sometimes) to get outraged at all the corrupt, racist, or cluelessly privileged people out there who are trying to take advantage of this situation for their own agendas. But don't dwell on them. Let's recall, uphold, and protect all the folks, from first responders to human rights defenders, putting it on the line to make sure that when we come out of this, something better might emerge.
Trump's immigration crackdown is creating new coronavirus hotspots
Here's a piece I wrote for World Politics Review, which is an excellent site but has a paywall. Business Insider picked it up over the weekend so you can read it for free.
COVID-19 has effectively shown what the administration's vision for the US border would look like if it were given free rein.
The article makes the same points about the border and migration that I've been yelling to anyone who'll listen. Not only is the COVID-19 crisis giving the Trump administration the chance to enact Stephen Miller's whole vision with no checks and balances: that enactment is actually spreading the virus in four places. Those are Mexican border towns, U.S. immigration detention centers, wherever ICE's deportation planes are still landing, and sites where border wall construction is still going on, 24-7.
Keep an eye on this number
This, based on very little actual testing, is the growth in "positive" COVID-19 cases among the more than 30,000 people still crammed into ICE's network of mostly privately run detention centers around the United States.
WOLA comment on the CDC's border ban
Under something called an “Interim Final Rule,” the Trump administration has sealed the U.S.-Mexico border since March 20 to all “inessential” travel. This means those without proper travel documents are getting expelled in as little as 90 minutes. These expulsions are happening even to people asking for asylum or protection in the United States. Right now our government is sending hundreds of people directly back to danger. That's illegal.
This rule came with a public comment process, and last Thursday was the deadline for getting in comments. With the text I drafted here and as a PDF here, WOLA was among dozens of organizations to submit comments.
While I doubt it will get the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services to alter the rule, the collection of comments from organizations, taken together, is a remarkable document. (This is what I'm talking about at the beginning of this e-mail when I talk about the people for whom I'm grateful.)
Explainer: FARC dissident groups
Colombia's conflict, and the effort to end it, is very complex, and there's not a lot of resources out there that (a) give you the basics and (b) aren't out of date. Here's an effort to address that: this week I added another big addition to the collection of "Explainer" articles on our Colombia website.
This one is an overview of the growing number of armed FARC "dissident" groups active in Colombia right now. It's several hundred fighters who rejected the 2016 peace accord, several hundred who demobilized but took up arms again, and several hundred new recruits. They're grouped into more than 20 active bands around the country. As I wrote and researched this, though, it became clearer to me that there's a lot of consolidation going on: two big national networks of ex-FARC groups are forming (the "Gentil Duarte" group and the "Iván Márquez" group), while others appear to be declining. Read more here:
Colombia pushes coca eradication during pandemic
Here's a really timely release I worked on with my WOLA colleagues. Just like the Trump administration is pushing for maximum accelerated border wall-building during the pandemic, it is pushing Colombia to do maximum coca-bush eradication around the country, with well over a hundred teams, accompanied by police and military, circulating around the country.
Not only does this raise public health issues right now: the fast U.S.-funded growth in eradication teams seems to be outpacing any previous attention to use-of-force standards. Security forces accompanying the eradicators have killed two campesinos in the past four weeks.
The Colombian government has launched more intense and aggressive coca eradication operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 links from the past week
- Noah Lanard reproduces testimonies from several women and their relatives as he reconstructs a late March episode of vicious cruelty in a corporate-run migrant detention center in Louisiana. Keep Stephen Miller’s smirking face in your mind as you read about these women’s experience in the system, and what happened the day they were locked for an hour in a room full of pepper spray.
- In a contribution to the multinational Tierra de Resistentes project on environmental defenders, La Liga Contra el Silencio profiles brave indigenous activists resisting big mining projects in southern Córdoba department, one of the most conflictive parts of Colombia right now.
- A similarly excellent Tierra de Resistentes piece at Contra Corriente does the same for indigenous communities opposing power generation projects in Yoro, Honduras—work that has cost 40 lives in the past 20 years.
- Verdad Abierta takes you to Colombia’s Naya River valley, a stunningly beautiful wilderness (I visited in 2018) whose Afro-descendant and indigenous communities describe a paradisiacal communitarian past—until about 20 years ago, when it became a trafficking corridor fought over between guerrilla and paramilitary factions.
- Verdad Abierta also produced a similarly important report from nearby Cauca, the department of Colombia that has seen the most murders of social leaders since the FARC conflict ended in 2016.
Latin America-related online events this week
Here's what I know is happening:
Monday, April 27
- 2:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: Brazil and Mexico: Domestic disinformation in the context of COVID-19 (RSVP required).
- 2:30 at Ignatian Solidarity Network Youtube channel: Migrants in the Americas & COVID19.
Tuesday, April 28
- 10:00–11:00 at stimson.org: Trends in Global Arms Transfers and Military Spending (RSVP required).
- 10:30–11:45 at wilsoncenter.org: Confronting COVID-19 in Brazil: Safeguarding Public Health, Social Welfare, and Economic Policy Amid a Political Crisis (RSVP required).
Wednesday, April 29
- 10:00–11:00 at thedialogue.org: Covid-19 and Human Rights in Latin America – A Conversation with Michelle Bachelet (RSVP required).
- 11:30–1:00 at thedialogue.org: La primera infancia y el Covid-19 – Respuestas a la emergencia (RSVP required).
Thursday, April 30
- 12:00–1:00 at cartercenter.org: Colombia’s Defiant Peace Communities: Strategies for Consolidating Peace Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tweets that made me laugh this week
"What do you do here at WOLA?"
WOLA launched a series of e-mail updates to supporters in which they profile staff members. Mine was the first to go—this went out a couple of days ago.
Let's all have a good week.