Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #39

I hope everyone in the United States had a good holiday. Here in Washington it was just the three of us, eating an epic meal and Zoom-calling relatives from our isolation.

In Latin America, where it was just a normal week, people were recovering from two hurricanes (Central America), protesting corruption (Guatemala), installing a third president this month (Peru), holding local elections (Brazil), trying to make sense of the United States' return of an indicted general (Mexico), and migrating (away from Central America, away from and, for some, into Venezuela).

I made, or helped make, several things to read, watch, or listen to during the past week. Here's a rundown.

WOLA Podcast: The Transition: A Rational, Region-Wide Approach to Migration

Here’s a second WOLA podcast in which, as the United States pivots between two very different administrations, we step back and take stock of things. In this one, Maureen Meyer and I talk about a huge topic: migration. In particular, how we can adapt humanely to a new reality of greatly increased human mobility throughout our hemisphere.

The Transition: A Rational, Region-Wide Approach to Migration - WOLA

The Transition: A Rational, Region-Wide Approach to Migration - WOLA

Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson and Vice-President for Programs Maureen Meyer take stock of the region’s “new normal” of heavy migration flows, and the administrative and policy shifts that the Biden administration—and governments and international organizations regionwide—must undergo in order to adapt.

The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s some text from WOLA’s podcast landing page.

border security and migration efforts
U.S. credibility and the tone of relations

I plan to post another "taking stock" podcast this week, covering the fight against corruption. Plus another "regular" podcast with a filmmaker whose short documentary about Argentina was recently featured on the New York Times' website.

“Measuring the drug trafficking problem by cultivated hectares is a mistake”

On the evening of the 22nd, I posted this tweet in response to a statement from Colombia’s Defense Minister that—while red meat for his political base—is just incredibly off-base as a strategy.


Juan Sebastián Lombo, a reporter from the Colombian daily El Espectador, reached out to me about all of this. We had a good conversation, and the newspaper did a great job of translating my gringo Spanish in a piece posted on the evening of the 26th. Here’s a quick English translation:

"Measuring the drug trafficking problem by cultivated hectares is a mistake" - Adam Isacson

"Measuring the drug trafficking problem by cultivated hectares is a mistake" - Adam Isacson

To speak only of drug trafficking as the cause of all problems is 1980s rhetoric that’s very discredited. No one makes policy nowadays seriously thinking that ending drug trafficking is going to end the rest of the country’s problems.

Weekly Colombia peace update

Our trial run of brief English updates about peace and security in Colombia continues. This one—which I admit is a few paragraphs too long—covers:

  • The fourth anniversary of the FARC peace accord
  • The JEP's hearing on protections for ex-combatants
  • Somos Defensores' latest report about attacks on social leaders

Colombia peace update: Week of November 22, 2020

Analysts tend to note an intensification of violence in the past year or two, especially compared to the immediate pre- and post-conflict period. Most find Colombia’s armed conflict fragmenting into a collection of regional conflicts with different dynamics. Some contend that the government has not adapted to this new reality.

Weekly border update: November 27, 2020

This one covers:

  • Central America's hurricanes expected to bring a rise in migration
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS secretary nominee, may go slow on border and asylum
  • The McAllen "cages" processing facility closes for renovation

Weekly border update: November 27, 2020

The hurricanes come on top of a COVID-19-related economic depression, which added to some of the world’s highest levels of criminal violence, in one of the world’s regions most susceptible to the impact of climate change.

Panel video - The United States and Latin America: What happens after the elections?

It was a big privilege to join this panel on Thursday morning (before we started cooking Thanksgiving dinner) on what lies ahead for the region as the Biden administration takes over. Many thanks to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's Colombia office, and its Latin American Network for Inclusive and Sustainable Security, for putting it together. We covered a lot of ground in this overview, and all eight of the four-day event's panels—posted to the YouTube channel of Foreign Affairs en Español—are worthwhile.

Two upcoming events

Friday, December 11

I continue to be very concerned about what COVID-19 is going to mean for the role of militaries in Latin America’s democracies, many of which were already having a hard time consolidating.

We had an event about this in September with experts from five countries, with our friend Claudio Alonso, an Uruguayan defense expert, moderating. (English highlights video here.)

Camilo will be back with us on December 11 at 12:00 noon Eastern for another round of conversations, this time with experts from six different countries. Please join us. The event will be in Spanish.

Las relaciones cívico-militares en América Latina después de nueve meses de pandemia

Las relaciones cívico-militares en América Latina después de nueve meses de pandemia

WOLA auspiciará una discusión necesaria de los últimos cambios de las relaciones cívico-militares regionales.

Wednesday, December 9

I should have this event's announcement finalized and posted to WOLA's events page by end-of-day Monday the 30th. But pencil in 1:30-3:00 (U.S. Eastern) on Wednesday the 9th: we'll be hosting a timely discussion of coca eradication and alternatives, and the imminent danger of aerial herbicide fumigation, with colleagues in Bogotá and in one or two coca-producing regions of Colombia. Stay tuned.

  • The U.S. Department of Justice ordered the arrest (and then the release) of former Mexican Defense Minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos because it believed the General was tied to a regional drug trafficking group based in Mexico’s Pacific state of Nayarit. At the Mexico Violence Resource Project, Nathaniel Morris tells the recent story of drug trafficking in Nayarit, a principal source of illegal opioids, and the extreme complicity of local government.
  • On a related topic, Dolia Estévez at Mexico’s SinEmbargo talks to Craig Deare, a defense academic who specializes in Mexico, about the Cienfuegos case. Deare finds it unlikely that the General would throw so much away just for a relationship with a minor narco group. The article also includes a long transcript of a 2018 interview Gen. Cienfuegos gave to Deare. Cienfuegos says much that I disagree with, but it’s a rare glimpse into the worldview of Mexico’s top-level military.
  • The quarterly “metering updates” from the University of Texas’s Robert Strauss Center have become an essential document for understanding what’s happening to asylum-seeking migrants at the border. The latest edition finds that, eight months into the pandemic, 15,690 asylum seekers are STILL on waitlists in nine Mexican border cities, hoping to present at U.S. ports of entry.
  • A long, fascinating, but ultimately inconclusive investigation by Israel’s Ha’aretz reveals a host of details about the Mexico operations of NSO, the Israeli company that makes and sells the super-controversial Pegasus phone-hacking software.
  • One link that’s not about Mexico: Fernando Silva at ContraCorriente details how even in the capital, Tegucigalpa, the Honduran government’s response to victims of hurricanes Eta and Iota has been improvised, politicized, and far from sufficient.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

  • 7:00–8:15am at thedialogue.org: ¿Qué papel puede tener Japón en la recuperación post-Covid-19 de América Latina? (RSVP required).
  • 12:00–1:30 at wilsoncenter.org: La digitalización de las Pymes: Propuestas de solución para la recuperación económica post-COVID (RSVP required).

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

  • 9:00–10:15 at thedialogue.org: Leveraging Japan-LAC Relations Post-Covid-19 (RSVP required).
  • 10:00 at foreignaffairs.house.gov: Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission: Charting a New Path Forward (link should be posted soon to Committee website).
  • 10:30–11:30 at wilsoncenter.org: US Foreign Aid to the Northern Triangle 2014–2019: Promoting Success by Learning from the Past (RSVP required).
  • 11:00–12:30 at canninghouse.org: Latin American Trade Alliances (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–2:30 at thedialogue.org: Democracy in a Post-Pandemic Latin America (RSVP required).

Thursday, December 3, 2020

  • 11:30–12:45 at wilsoncenter.org: Venezuela’s Assembly Elections (RSVP required).
  • 4:00–5:15 at thedialogue.org: LGBTQ Rights and US Foreign Policy: A Need to Lead (RSVP required).

Friday, December 4, 2020

  • 10:00 at CRIES Zoom: Los actores globales y el (re) descubrimiento de América Latina (RSVP required).
  • 12:00 at phr-org.zoom.us: Family Separation and Reunification Efforts (RSVP required).

A few tweets that made me laugh this week


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Jamie Larson