Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #40

That first week of December was pretty full, and this e-mail links to a lot of stuff. Much was happening here in Washington, too. In a first, a government commission released a good report on drug policy. Congress finished work on the Defense bill, with a good provision on Colombia (in report language, not bill text, but still binding). I got to lead or participate in several coalition meetings as the presidential transition proceeds: it's really interesting watching people and organizations shift, cautiously, from defense to offense after being so battered for four years.

This week will be interesting too. I'm hosting two events, will record a podcast, and hope to make progress on a big report about Colombia. Congress has to come up with a federal budget by Friday—with the border wall one of the ugliest sticking points—or punt until next year (the outgoing president wouldn't force a shutdown during a pandemic, would he?). CBP is likely to release November numbers showing another big rise in undocumented migration at the border. And no doubt something else will happen that I'm not even foreseeing.

Meanwhile, we will lose the 300,000th American to COVID-19 this week, or just after. Please be safe during this cold, dark late-fall week in the northern hemisphere.

I'm hosting two events this week

I tend to host live events only a few times per year, but for some reason I'm doing two this week. The first was an idea raised by colleagues in Colombia, which was too good to pass up. The second was an idea I developed with a colleague in Uruguay, and I'm honored that every single speaker we invited accepted.

Wednesday, December 9: Coca and Eradication Four Years into Colombia’s “Post-Accord” Phase

Four years after the signing of a historic peace accord, hundreds of thousands of Colombian families continue to rely on the coca crop. The government, with U.S. support, has already broken its annual record for forced eradication, during the pandemic, and little of it has been coordinated with food security or rural development assistance. Now, a revival of a controversial aerial herbicide fumigation program is looming.

How are coca cultivating communities responding? How does all of this relate to the peace accord? What might happen if fumigation restarts? What are the costs of eradication, both financially and in terms of rights? Will pursuing the same strategies pursued during the past 30 years really yield a different result? What happened with the peace accords’ crop substitution program? What would a better coca policy look like? How should the new U.S. administration adjust its assistance programs?

WOLA, Elementa, CODHES, the Instituto Pensar of the Universidad Javeriana, the Alianza de Mujeres Tejedoras de Vida, and the Corporación Viso Mutop look forward to addressing these topics on Wednesday, December 9, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. (U.S. eastern and Bogotá time).

Event Details:

Wednesday, December 9, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST



  • Marco Romero, CODHES, Bogotá
  • Nancy Sánchez Méndez, Mujeres Tejedoras de Vida, Mocoa, Putumayo
  • Adriana Muro, Elementa DDHH, Colombia-México
  • Adam Isacson, WOLA, Washington D.C.
  • Pedro Arenas, Corporación Viso Mutop, Bogotá


  • Marcela Ceballos, Instituto Pensar, Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá

Simultaneous interpretation will be available.

Friday, December 11: (Spanish only - no budget for interpretation, sorry!)

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

La Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA) cordialmente le invita a un webinario:

Aún antes del inicio de la pandemia COVID-19, muchos analistas políticos en América Latina se estaban preocupando por el crecimiento de los papeles internos, y de la influencia política, de las fuerzas armadas de la región. Estos han llegado, en muchos países, a niveles no vistos desde las dictaduras de la época de la Guerra Fría.

Ahora, en gran parte de la región, la pandemia está cambiando las relaciones cívico-militares de manera tan rápida que es difícil monitorear la situación. Las fuerzas armadas siempre son obligadas a participar en el entorno civil en momentos de desastres naturales, pero el COVID-19 es un desastre que afecta cada rincón de los territorios nacionales, sin fecha límite aparente.

WOLA auspiciará una discusión necesaria de los últimos cambios de las relaciones cívico-militares regionales. Escucharemos presentaciones breves de expertos sobre seis países, seguidas por una discusión abierta.

Detalles del evento:

Viernes, 11 de diciembre de 2020, 12:00 p.m – 2:00 p.m. Hora Este de los Estados Unidos (EST – Washington DC, UTC−05:00)

Este webinario se transmitirá en la página de YouTube de WOLA.


  • Lilian Bobea, Fitchburg State University, Presentando sobre la República Dominicana
  • Iduvina Hernández, Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM), Presentando sobre Guatemala
  • Francine Jácome, Instituto Venezolano de Estudios Sociales y Políticos (INVESP), Presentando sobre Venezuela
  • Leticia Salomón, Centro de Documentación de Honduras (CEDOH), Presentando sobre Honduras
  • Ricardo Soberón, Centro de Investigación Drogas y Derechos Humanos (CIDDH), Presentando sobre Perú
  • Loreta Tellería, Observatorio de Democracia y Seguridad, Presentando sobre Bolivia


  • Claudio Alonso, Exdirector general de política de defensa, Ministerio de la Defensa Nacional de Uruguay


  • Adam Isacson, Director del programa de veeduría de defensa en WOLA

La discusión se hará en español.

WOLA Podcast: The Transition: The future of Latin America’s anti-corruption fight

Here’s a third 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, I talk to my colleagues Adriana Beltrán and Moses Ngong about the region’s fight against corruption: how unpunished corruption underlies so many other problems, who is fighting it, and how we must support them internationally with all we’ve got. It came out really well.

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

The Transition: The future of Latin America's anti-corruption fight - WOLA

The Transition: The future of Latin America's anti-corruption fight - WOLA

The United States is in a transition period between the Trump and Biden administrations. For U.S.-Latin American relations, this will mean a sharp shift between two very different visions of how Washington should work with the hemisphere.

In this episode, a third in a series about the transition, we talk about corruption and efforts to fight it. WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán and Mexico Program Assistant Moses Ngong call corruption “endemic: a system, a network, a web of relations” that underlies many other problems in Latin America, from insecurity, to susceptibility to natural disasters, to forced migration.

Focusing particularly on Mexico and Central America, we discuss who the region’s anti-corruption reformers are, the challenges they face, and how the United States and other international actors can best support them. A key point for the Biden administration is that other policy goals in the Americas will be impossible to achieve without a determined approach to corruption that upholds reformers.

The work of WOLA’s Mexico and Citizen Security programs often takes on corruption. Resources mentioned in the podcast include:

This is the third of a series of discussions in which the podcast will talk about the transition. Last week, we covered migration, and the week before we talked about U.S. credibility and the tone of relations. Next week, the series’s final episode will take on the state of human rights and democracy.

Another WOLA Podcast: When your neighbor is a murderer: Sean Mattison on “escrache” in Argentina

I enjoyed this conversation about victims’ activism in Argentina with filmmaker Sean Mattison. The .mp3 file is here. The podcast feed is here. And here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:

When your neighbor is a murderer: Sean Mattison on "escrache" in Argentina

When your neighbor is a murderer: Sean Mattison on "escrache" in Argentina

The New York Times featured a short film by Sean Mattison about Argentina. Atención! Murderer Next Door, posted on November 10, 2020, tells the story of HIJOS, a group of children of victims of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, who started using a novel technique in the 1990s to pressure for an end to the amnesty that the armed forces’ torturers and killers enjoyed at the time.

Those responsible for the dictatorship’s campaign of tens of thousands of forced disappearances were living side-by-side with regular citizens. HIJOS and other activists started using direct action, gathering outside the perpetrators’ homes and workplaces and making clear to all that “a murderer lives here.”

They called this increasingly creative method “escrache,” which as Mattison explains here doesn’t translate well into English. Escrache worked: it helped build pressure for President Néstor Kirchner to end the post-dictatorship amnesty law in 2003. Argentina has now sentenced more military human rights abusers than has any other Latin American country.

As Mattison discusses, escrache has caught on elsewhere. Versions of escrache are already being aimed at Trump administration officials who led abuses like family separation. While it is not a perfect tool or an appropriate form of activism for all circumstances, it deserves a closer look, which is a future direction for Sean Mattison’s work.

Talking about drug policy at an event in Colombia's Senate

Primera conferencia Internacional sobre política de drogas - 04/12/2020

I feel like I share a lot of videos in these e-mails of me speaking Spanish at some event or another. You may be wondering why I never get any more fluent.

This one turned out well, though, since I let the graphics do most of the talking and my fellow panelists were super-articulate. A group of opposition members of Colombia's Senate put on a two-day event about changing drug policy, and I was honored to be invited. I spoke on a panel Friday afternoon; my part starts at about 2:13:30 in the above video, but you'd be well advised to listen to the other members of my panel, who were amazing (I spoke third).

Weekly Colombia peace update

Topics covered this week:

  • Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission calls for changes
  • Defense bill requires report on misuse of military intelligence aid
  • Colonel’s resignation highlights Army’s internal divisions
  • How land theft was legalized
Colombia peace update: Week of November 29, 2020

Colombia peace update: Week of November 29, 2020

“If land in Colombia were a cake cut into ten pieces, one person would control nine of the pieces,” begins a series of videos featured by the “Rutas del Conflicto” project of Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.

Weekly border update

Topics covered this week:

  • Migrant deaths rise in Arizona
  • Mexico’s migrant apprehensions increase
  • More coverage of obstacles Biden will likely face
Weekly border update: December 4, 2020

Weekly border update: December 4, 2020

A Washington Post series, among other media accounts published this week, points to obstacles that the incoming Biden administration might face in undoing Donald Trump’s hardline border security and migration policies.

  • The Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, a bipartisan body created in 2017, came out with a thoughtful report based on a year and a half of work. Lots of recommendations that sound like common sense and leave you wondering why they weren’t implemented already—unless you’ve been mired in the politics of drug policy.
  • The fourth of a five-part Washington Post series about “how criminal groups are transforming Mexico” focuses on the arduous search for the disappeared, spurred far more by mothers than by the authorities, amid a profusion of mass graves. The Post has put a lot of resources into this series, and it’s worth your time. Pair it with this profile of the Madres Coraje, who are using drones and other tech to locate remains in Nuevo León, by the Camino a encontrarles project.
  • Santa Marta is a beautiful Caribbean city whose environs, during the 1990s and 2000s, were under the brutal sway of the AUC paramilitary blocs led by “Jorge 40” and Hernán Giraldo. Colombia’s La Liga Contra el Silencio finds that paramilitaries, most of whom can trace their DNA to the old AUC, are making a comeback in the city just as 40 and Giraldo are being returned from U.S. prison.
  • Guatemala’s Agencia Ocote profiles Anatasia Mejía Tiriquiz, the director of Xolabaj Radio and TV, an independent media outlet in conflict-battered Quiché department. Mejía has just returned from 37 days in prison, a case that alarmed press freedom watchdogs about the state of free speech in Guatemala.
  • The International Crisis Group’s Elizabeth Dickinson profiles Luz Mary, a social leader in the Altos de Cazucá slum on Bogotá’s far outskirts. Most striking about the story is how completely abandoned she is by the government, even in a densely populated area near the center of Colombia’s political life, and even as she tries to maintain a program to help at-risk youth.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

  • 8:30–10:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Elecciones en pandemia: aprendizajes y desafíos para el 2021 (RSVP required).
  • 9:00–10:15 at thedialogue.org: Chinese Investment in LAC — Post-Pandemic Prospects (RSVP required).
  • 10:00–11:15 at usip.org: How Movements Fight Corruption (RSVP required).
  • 1:00–2:30 at wilsoncenter.org: Gender-Based Violence and Rule of Law: Improving Protections for Women(RSVP required).
  • 1:30–3:00 at wola.org: Coca and Eradication Four Years into Colombia’s “Post-Accord” Phase (RSVP required).
  • 2:00 at foreignaffairs.house.gov: Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on International Human Rights and the Closing Civic Space.
  • 2:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: The incoming US administration and the future of supply chains in the Americas(RSVP required).
  • 3:00–4:30 at thedialogue.org: REMDI: Evaluating the impact of the pandemic on early childhood development in Latin America and the Caribbean (RSVP required).

Thursday, December 10, 2020

  • 11:00–12:00 at thedialogue.org: Forward Together: A Conversation with Former Presidents of the Americas(RSVP required).
  • 11:30–1:00 at csis.org: Lessons Learned for Afghanistan from El Salvador’s Peace Process (RSVP required).

Friday, December 11, 2020

  • 9:00–10:30 at wola.org: Afro-Descendant Rights in the Americas: The Perspective of Transnational Activists in the U.S. and the Region (RSVP required).
  • 12:00–2:00 at wola.org: Las relaciones cívico-militares en América Latina después de nueve meses de pandemia (RSVP required).
  • 2:30–4:00 at wola.org: Assessing Venezuela’s National Assembly Elections (RSVP required).

A few tweets that made me laugh this week


Friday afternoon

My wife took this photo of me working at home Friday. Why would I ever want to go back to the office? To have more mousepad space, I guess.

The microphone is for podcasting—got it 9 years ago for $100. I’m not sure what the cat is for—got him 17 1/2 years ago for free.

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Jamie Larson