Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #48

I did a bunch of writing and lined up some podcasts during this first week of February…but nothing is public yet. I expect that next week's e-mail is going to be pretty long.

But for now, what's below are the things I've been doing on a weekly basis: a Colombia update, a border update, some recommended reading, a listing of events, and some tweets that made me chuckle.

The border update below is a "double issue" because so much happened this week with Biden's new executive orders, and some initial press reports about a new migrant "crisis" at the border. As that latter story developed into the weekend, it became apparent that there's no actual "crisis" yet—no wave of migrants overwhelming an unprepared Biden administration, because at most of the border CBP is still expelling them into Mexico under Trump-era pandemic orders.

Things are moving fast at the border right now, though, so we'll see what changes this week. Hopefully this week CBP will report back on migrant apprehensions and other data from February, as well as year-end data from 2020. Stay tuned.

Colombia peace update: February 6, 2021

2021 began with a wave of massacres, and security analysts are pessimistic

A new WOLA alert details more than 30 attacks on social leaders, journalists, opposition political leaders, and communities since late December. Colombia’s security situation continues to worsen in territories that were conflictive before the 2016 FARC peace accord. The first 35 days of 2021 saw 13 massacres kill 50 people in 7 of Colombia’s departments, according to the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación (PARES).

“It’s as though we’ve gone back years in a spiral of violence,” wrote PARES’s deputy director, Ariel Ávila, at El Espectador. Ávila sees three differences from the pre-accord past: more violence along the Pacific coast, a government that seems “paralyzed” with the military “closed up in its barracks,” and a fragmented flux of criminal groups changing names, appearing and disappearing. He cites a boom in coca and gold prices creating criminal incentives, and worries that violence will get much worse as Colombia’s 2022 election campaign approaches. Ávila faults the ruling party—led by Álvaro Uribe, who as president oversaw a period of security gains—for “fighting the last war,” choosing incapable defense ministers, and ideologizing the strategy.

Juan Carlos Garzón of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) also finds a jump in prices offered for coca (counterintuitive, since cultivation remains historically high), and fragmentation of armed groups. This fragmentation, he notes, calls into question the effectiveness of “high value target” strategies that pour resources into taking out easily replaced criminal-group leaders. Garzón adds that corruption in the security forces is “a serious problem, rarely denounced, but frequently reported in areas where illegal economies are highly prevalent.” His analysis, in La Silla Vacía, also highlights the “consolidated influence” that armed groups, especially the ELN and “Segunda Marquetalia” FARC dissidents, have in Venezuelan territory.

Kyle Johnson and Juanita Vélez of Conflict Responses, writing for the Universidad de los Andes’ 070, join Garzón in questioning the Duque government’s insistence that attacking drug supplies—especially eradicating smallholding farmers’ coca crops—is the key to easing the larger security crisis. Colombia’s government manually eradicated and seized record amounts of coca and cocaine in 2020, yet “some of the regions hardest hit by the FARC conflict are at risk of returning to the levels of violence experienced before negotiations began in 2012. That is, they may lose the security gains generated by the peace process.” Johnson and Vélez call for more emphasis on territorial governance, especially implementing the Territorially Focused Development Plans (PDET) foreseen in the peace accord’s first chapter. They criticize the Duque government’s flagship territorial governance strategy, called “Zonas Futuro,” for only strengthening military presence.

Over the past week, several stories in Colombian media documented security deterioration in specific regions.

  • El Espectador profiled Los Caparros, a paramilitary-descended group whose power is rising in the Bajo Caucaregion of northeastern Antioquia, even though its nominal leader was killed in November.
  • Just to the north of Bajo Cauca, PARES reported on the neighboring Nudo de Paramillo region, where FARC dissidents are fighting the Gulf Clan neo-paramilitaries.
  • Further north and east, conditions are worsening in the Montes de María region, which was hard-hit by paramilitaries and guerrillas 20-plus years ago but had since become less violent, La Silla Vacía finds.
  • A massacre of four young men from Policarpa, Nariño, drew attention to bitter fighting between dissident groups, and with the ELN, near the Pan-American Highway in northern Nariño and southern Cauca.
  • In the urban core of the Pacific coast port of Buenaventura, a group that dominated most criminality, La Local, broke into two factions late last year, and now tens of thousands of residents are caught in a bloody crossfire. Other armed groups are fighting in the municipality’s vast rural zone. Numerous civil-society groups have issued an “SOS,” citing “perverse alliances between illegal armed groups and the security forces.”
  • In the far south, in Putumayo, fighting between guerrilla dissidents and paramiltary-descended criminals, compounded by forced eradication in the department’s robust coca fields, has brought a jump in attacks on social leaders.
  • In the northeast, near the Venezuela border, Norte de Santander department is in bad shape. There are two hotspots. In Catatumbo, the country’s largest coca-growing zone, the ELN is the strongest of many armed groups, with the Gulf Clan making new incursions. In the outskirts of Cúcuta—at half a million people, the largest city on the Colombia-Venezuela border—the ELN (perhaps with Venezuelan support) weakened a local paramilitary-descended group, Los Rastrojos, last year. But now the Gulf Clan is moving in, La Silla Vacía reports.

Government may make “official” the lowest existing estimate of social leader murders

On February 3 President Iván Duque announced a new “inter-sectoral table” to “unify information” about persistently frequent murders of human rights defenders and social leaders. Alarmed, critics pointed out that Duque was proposing to adopt the smallest available estimate of these killings, and that the move may be a sign of weakened checks and balances.

As several local leaders fall to assassins every week, different entities maintain varying estimates of how severe the problem is. While all are still verifying their 2020 numbers, estimates through 2019, laid out in a graphic in El Espectador’s good coverage of the “inter-sectoral table” proposal, come from:

  • The NGO Indepaz, which counted 805 murders between November 24, 2016 and the end of 2019.
  • The government’s human rights ombudsman, Defensoría del Pueblo, whose Early Warning System counted 571murders between January 2016 and the end of 2019. By July 2020, El Espectador reports, this had risen to 662.
  • The NGO Somos Defensores, which counted 465 murders between January 2016 and the end of 2019.
  • The government’s chief prosecutor’s office, Fiscalía, which employs statistics gathered by the Colombia field officeof the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which in turn counted 398 murders between January 2016 and the end of 2019.

President Duque’s new “unification” policy adopts as “official” the lowest of those estimates, the one used by the Fiscalía. Yet this figure, El Espectador points out, is artificially the lowest “because, as the UN office itself has acknowledged, they are partial reports, as it does not have sufficient presence in territory to cover all cases.”

By subsuming the human rights ombudsman’s larger number to the Fiscalía’s, President Duque’s plan would throw out about 200 cases and seek to “silence” the Defensoría, worried Leonel González, the main data-keeper at Indepaz. The move also raises concerns about separation of powers. In Colombia’s system, the Fiscalía, Defensoría, and the internal-affairs office or Procuraduría are separate branches of government, beyond the executive’s control. But President Duque has managed to place close colleagues at the head of these agencies, especially the Fiscalía and Procuraduría, calling their independence into question. Lourdes Castro of Somos Defensores voiced concern in El Espectador about “the implications for democracy of this co-optation of the control bodies by the administration.”

Two big networks of Colombian human rights organizations, the Coordinación Colombia-Europa-Estados Unidos and the Movement of Victims of State Crimes, quickly put out a statement rejecting Duque’s move as “a serious step backward.” They criticized Chief Prosecutor Francisco Barbosa’s claims to have “clarified” a growing percentage of this smaller universe of murders, citing “misinterpretation…of the term ‘clarification,’ understanding it as any procedural advance.” The groups called out the Fiscalía for prosecuting trigger-pullers “without reaching the intellectual authors [masterminds] of the aggressions, much less dismantling the armed structures behind them.”

Meanwhile, the director of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office in Bogotá, Juliette de Rivero, rightly recalled that a focus on statistics about murders is misplaced. “It would be a mistake to believe, given what is happening in the country, that the main objective should be to agree on figures. The important thing is to prevent killings, attacks, and threats against human rights defenders and social leaders, whether it be 10, 20, or 100 cases.”

  • The likely nomination of Brian Nichols, a former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Colombia, to be the Biden administration’s first assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs “will be good news for issues such as the protection of social leaders and the implementation of the Peace Accord,” predicts La Silla Vacía. “Not necessarily for Duque and his circle of power.”
  • Diego Molano is Colombia’s new minister of defense, replacing Carlos Holmes Trujillo, who died of COVID-19 complications on January 26. Molano headed the big-budget “Acción Social” cash-transfer program during the Álvaro Uribe government, and had been serving as Iván Duque’s chief of staff.
  • “The Elders,” a group of former presidents, UN secretaries-general, and other retired luminaries, issued a statement—put forward by Colombian ex-president Juan Manuel Santos—calling on Joe Biden to revoke the Trump administration’s last-minute addition of Cuba to its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries. The principal reason for Cuba’s addition was its refusal to extradite ELN leaders who were present in the country for peace talks, when a vicious January 2019 ELN bombing led to those talks’ end. For Cuba to turn the negotiators over to Colombia would violate the talks’ agreed protocols. U.S. pressure “may make countries more hesitant to act as facilitators in the future.”
  • The human rights NGO Temblores published a compelling report documenting recent National Police human rights abuses and the need for meaningful police reform.
  • A new paper by four noted U.S. and Colombian analysts dives deeply into “gang rule” dynamics in Medellín, with the counterintuitive finding that “state efforts to expand services, crowd out gangs, and establish a monopoly on protection could have the opposite effect, driving gangs to increase rule.”
  • Sometimes, a report at Caracol Noticias alleges, coca eradication teams “go to the fields where, according to the reports [from ‘diverse sources consulted’], they make agreements with the coca-growing communities. The owner of a plot may be told, for example, to allow them to uproot 50 bushes, and then they report having cut down three or four hectares of coca. It’s a win-win situation.” Last July, a Semana investigation made similar allegations about eradicators inflating their results.
  • With the impending exit of Roberto Pombo, the director of Colombia’s most-circulated newspaper El Tiempo, columnist Cecilia Orozco at El Espectador worries that “the El Tiempo-Semana-RCN media axis, in the hands of Uribismo, might guarantee the electoral triumph of a more violent and annihilating ultra-right wing than we have suffered so far.”
  • UNHCR Commissioner Filippo Grandi will visit Colombia next week. Obtaining international support for vaccinating Venezuelan migrants will be a main topic of discussion. President Iván Duque has said in the past that Colombia won’t offer COVID-19 vaccines to undocumented Venezuelans, but appears to be walking that back a bit.

Weekly Border Update: February 5, 2021

This is a “double issue,” longer than normal, as White House actions led to an especially heavy news week.

White House issues much-anticipated executive orders

President Joe Biden issued three migration-related executive orders on February 2. One issues guidelines for welcoming new legal immigrants. One proposes a framework for addressing Western Hemisphere migration and for the asylum system. And one seeks to reunite families separated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The orders’ issuance coincided with the Senate’s confirmation of Biden’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, by a 56 to 43 vote. Six Republicans voted for Mayorkas: Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), and Dan Sullivan (Alaska). Portman and Capito are the ranking Republicans, respectively, on the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee and Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

For the most part, the executive orders neither fully institute new policies nor fully revoke Trump-era policies. Language often calls on executive branch agencies and officials to “consider” taking these moves. There may be legal reasons for wording the orders this way, to blunt potential litigation against them. But the indirect language and lack of timelines has some migrant rights’ advocates concerned.

Measures outlined in the orders include:

  • Establishing a cabinet-level task force to reunify families separated during the entire Trump administration. This task force is asked, among other items, to produce recommendations for “the possible exercise of parole” so that parents in Central America may rejoin children who remain in the United States.
  • Preparing a “Strategy for Addressing the Root Causes of Migration,” which will form the framework of a U.S. diplomatic and assistance package. Unlike past “security-first” aid packages for Latin America, this strategy prioritizes combating corruption, promoting human rights, countering violent crime, combating sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence, and addressing economic challenges.
  • Consulting with a broad range of stakeholders, including the Mexican government, on “collaboratively managing migration.” Measures include helping Mexico improve its own reception of migrants, including growing numbersof asylum seekers, from Central America and elsewhere.
  • Leaving intact for now—but “promptly begin[ning] consultation and planning… to develop policies and procedures” to change—the March 2020 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) order closing the border to asylum seekers due to COVID-19. Under this order, often called “Title 42” for the relevant section of the U.S. Code that underlies it, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) rapidly expelled migrants 393,000 times between March and December. Some of those expelled needed protection from threats to their lives.
  • Leaving intact, but ordering DHS to “promptly review and determine whether to terminate or modify,” the Migrant Protection Protocols or “Remain in Mexico” program, which sent more than 70,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers to await their U.S. hearings in Mexico over the past two years. More than 28,000 still have cases pending, and of those who have been ordered removed, less than 3 percent had legal representation. The February 2 order calls for prompt consideration of “a phased strategy for the safe and orderly entry into the United States” of those with pending cases. On January 20, DHS announced it would stop enrolling new asylum seekers into “Remain in Mexico.” However, right now, under Title 42, most Central Americans are being expelled quickly into Mexico without a “Remain in Mexico” court date—though Mexico may be partially changing that, as discussed below.
  • Ordering the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to “promptly review and determine whether to rescind” so-called Safe Third Country Agreements that the Trump administration signed with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, committing those countries to allow the U.S. government to send them other countries’ asylum seekers. The only one of these agreements that went into operation was Guatemala’s, which sent 945 non-Guatemalan asylum seekers to Guatemala between November 2019 and the programs’ COVID-related suspension in March 2020. None of the 945 received asylum in Guatemala.
  • “Consider[ing] taking all appropriate actions” to reinstate the Central American Minors Program, a small program, terminated by the Trump administration, that allowed some children to apply for protection at U.S. embassies and consulates instead of crossing Mexico alone.
  • Undergoing a 270-day process to promulgate new regulations undoing the Trump administration’s steady narrowing of the definition of who qualifies for asylum.
  • Reviewing, with likely intent to rescind, several restrictive rules associated with Stephen Miller’s attempts to make asylum and other legal immigration statuses harder to obtain.

As most of this language falls short of making firm commitments, “officials have found themselves pleading for patience, saying they are constrained by President Trump’s tangle of executive orders and administrative restrictions on immigration, as well as by public health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” as the Los Angeles Times’ Molly O’Toole put it. “We want to act swiftly, we want to act promptly, but we also need to make sure we are doing that through a strategic policy process,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. The New Yorker cites the work of a team of students led by Yale and Stanford professor Lucas Guttentag, which identifies 1,058 changes that the Trump administration made to the U.S. immigration system.

Numerous human rights organizations, including WOLA, continue to call on the Biden administration to move more quickly, particularly to end misuse of the Title 42 expulsions of asylum seekers. A long list of public health experts, led by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, sent a January 28 letter raising earlier recommendations for how lifting these measures can be done safely during the pandemic.

Much ire is directed at the persistence of “Remain in Mexico,” which has caused untold misery in Mexican border cities. As Erika Andiola of RAICES Texas told the Texas Tribune, “There’s nothing to ‘review’ about a policy that leads to people getting beaten, tortured and kidnapped regularly, as they wait like sitting ducks on the southern border.” Linda Rivas of the El Paso-based Las Américas Immigrant Advocacy Center told CNN that she “has been trying to console her clients this week, including a Honduran mother who said she had been raped while waiting in Mexico.” Elsewhere in El Paso—where a witness to the 2019 Wal-Mart shooting was swiftly deported this week—Tania Guerrero of CLINIC toldthe Dallas Morning News, “We need to know what the game plan is. It’s a lot of confusion. And, people are losing hope.”

On February 1 the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to postpone two cases that were scheduled for arguments later in the month: challenges to “Remain in Mexico” and to President Trump’s use of a national emergency declaration to channel Defense Department budget funds, without congressional approval, into border wall construction. The Court agreed to take the arguments off the calendar. “Had Trump remained in office, it is very likely that the Supreme Court would have upheld both programs,” noted a Vox analysis, citing conservative justices’ unwillingness to halt either, even as lower courts ruled against them.

Mexico stops taking other countries’ expelled families

Note: while this section reproduces what was being reported in major U.S. media as of late on the 4th, some sources at the border—in public and in communications with us—question whether Mexico has, in fact, changed its policy. While it appears that there’s some increase in families being released into the U.S. interior, at least in Texas, Mexican refusals to take expelled Central American families are localized, not nationwide.

As noted above, under the Title 42 pandemic order, CBP expelled migrants into Mexico 393,000 times between March and December. Of those, according to an information request that the online journalism outlet Animal Político sent to the Mexican government, 17,129 of migrants expelled into Mexico through November were Central American. Others may have been from Cuba, Venezuela, or elsewhere. And on February 3, in a highly irregular and still unexplained move, CBP expelled dozens of Haitians into Ciudad Juárez.

On February 3 the Washington Post revealed that, at some border crossings, Mexico has started rejecting expulsions of non-Mexican families. This began before Joe Biden’s inauguration, in response to a November law mandating that Mexico’s immigration detention centers must no longer hold children and families.

This “has prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to release more parents and children into the U.S. interior,” five unnamed U.S. officials told the Post. A CBP spokesperson said that some of the agency’s facilities have reached “maximum safe holding capacity. Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a notice to appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing.” This is happening in the Rio Grande Valley sector of south Texas, but not yet at other border crossings like Nogales, where CBP continues to expel non-Mexican families.

A sudden increase in releases would present “a massive problem,” Rubén García of El Paso’s Annunciation House—one of a small number of charity-run respite centers for asylum-seeking migrants released into border cities—told El Paso Matters. “Right now, we probably could reasonably handle upwards of 300 people” due to social distancing requirements, he said. Without his shelter’s services, “I think that what [Border Patrol] would do is go back to releasing them on the street there by the Greyhound bus station.”

A central reason for the Biden administration’s cautious undoing of the Trump administration’s policies is fear of such a “wave” of migration at the border. A “Central American official who closely monitors migration dynamics” told the Postthat migrant smugglers have been intensifying “their marketing efforts” in rural Guatemala. “They’re saying Biden has given the green light” in their sales pitches, the unnamed official said.

Border Patrol agents have begun feeding information to Fox News and similar outlets about “steady increases in apprehensions, especially among Central American families and unaccompanied children in their sectors—specifically the Rio Grande Valley and Tucson, Arizona, sectors. One agent in Texas told Fox News that in three out of the last seven days, there were at least 800 arrests in their sector, up from about 450 a day just a few months ago.”

Mexico arrests police officers for January 22 migrant massacre

On February 2, 11 days after the burned remains of 19 people—most of them migrants—were found along a northern Mexican roadside near the U.S. border—authorities in violence-battered Tamaulipas state made a surprising announcement. The state attorney general ordered the arrest of 12 state police agents on charges of committing the massacre.

So far, only four of the bodies had been identified: two migrants from Guatemala, and two Mexicans “with a history of migrant smuggling.” The remaining victims are believed to be Guatemalan migrants. At least one was probably a man who had lived for 26 years in the United States, been deported, and had hoped to return to his wife and child in Mississippi. DNA test results are still pending.

A motive for the police agents’ crime is unknown. It is all too common in Tamaulipas state, however, for organized crime to infiltrate police forces. Tamaulipas is the site of a heated rivalry between criminal groups that engage in drug trafficking, most prominently the Gulf Cartel and a remnant of the Zetas, the Northeast Cartel.

Some of the 12 arrested officers are members of the GOPES, Special Operations Public Security Group, an elite SWAT-type unit within the Tamaulipas state police force. GOPES was launched in August 2020, replacing a unit accused of serious human rights abuses.

Troublingly, in August 2020, when GOPES launched, a report in the Mexican newspaper Milenio stated that the unit “carried out trainings with U.S. authorities,” along with Mexican Marines. We do not yet know whether this is accurate, and if so what the training involved. U.S. assistance for units with questionable human rights records, like Tamaulipas state police, is rare and tends to focus on issues like human rights, proper use of force, or proper judicial and evidence procedures. But we still don’t know.

Meanwhile, Animal Político published a disturbing revelation about the Mexican government’s response to abuse of migrants. The country’s nominally independent human rights ombudsman’s office, the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), had collected 32 documents’ worth of accounts of torture, amputations, rapes, and murders of migrants traveling through Mexico—some of them with the participation of security and immigration forces—covering September 2019 through February 2020. But the CNDH, which is supposed to advocate for victims and seek to hold abusers accountable, sat on this information. The failure to inform about these abuses casts further doubt on the independence of CNDH President Rosario Piedra Ibarra, who has been questioned for her closeness to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

  • The Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is opening an “overflow” shelter to hold up to 700 unaccompanied migrant children at least 13 years of age, in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Normally, children stay in such facilities for days or weeks before being placed with relatives or other sponsors. As of late January, there were 4,730 unaccompanied migrant children in ORR care, less than a third of the agency’s population during the 2019 child and family migration wave.
  • Whistleblowers who formerly had internal affairs roles at DHS accuse top Border Patrol and other DHS officials of obstructing investigations into agents’ notorious killing of Mexican citizen Anastasio Hernández, beaten to death at California’s San Ysidro port of entry in May 2010. Among those named is Rodney Scott, Border Patrol’s current chief. Affidavits filed in a case before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the Intercept reports, contend that the killing was “emblematic of an entrenched pattern in matters involving the Border Patrol, particularly in cases of lethal force.”
  • A Border Patrol agent fatally shot a man trying to enter the United States near the Hidalgo Port of Entry in south Texas on January 29. CBP, DHS’s Inspector-General, and the FBI are currently investigating the shooting, the Associated Press reported.
  • Two Arizona humanitarian organizations, No More Deaths and the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, published a report alleging that while Border Patrol has all but monopolized emergency response in the border zone, the agency has a poor record of responding to calls for rescue from lost migrants dying in the desert.
  • Under Title 42 pandemic measures, CBP has been expelling migrants at remote desert border crossings with very few services, and where bilateral agreements normally prohibit the U.S. government from deporting people. This includes crossings like Sonoyta, across from Lukeville Arizona; Sásabe, Arizona-Sonora; and Puerto Palomas, across from Columbus, New Mexico. Mexican government data indicate Sonoyta and Puerto Palomas have been the number two and three points for expulsions of Central Americans. Number one is Reynosa, Tamaulipas, perhaps Mexico’s most violent border city.
  • At the Intercept, Ken Klippenstein details an ugly power struggle within the DHS Inspector General’s Office that crippled the agency’s ability to perform effective oversight of the Trump administration at a crucial moment for human rights.
  • At the Texas Tribune, Julián Águilar warns that the immigration courts’ backlog—1.3 million cases, including 360,000 asylum cases—means years-long waits that could frustrate efforts to undo Trump’s asylum policies. It argues that hiring more judges won’t be enough.
  • I’m growing ever more obsessed with the institutional culture at U.S. border security agencies, and last week gave me some important new inputs. At the Intercept, Ryan Deveraux summarized affidavits signed by three former DHS whistleblowers, which detail how Border Patrol and Department leadership frustrated an investigation into the 2010 beating death of Mexican citizen Anastasio Hernández. Kate Morrissey also covered this well at the San Diego Union-Tribune. The oversight picture grows even darker with this Ken Klippenstein exposé, also at the Intercept, about how insane infighting at the DHS Office of the Inspector-General crippled oversight of the agency when it was most needed, during the darkest period of the Trump administration.
  • Two Arizona humanitarian organizations, No More Deaths and the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, published a report alleging that while Border Patrol has all but monopolized emergency response in the border zone, the agency has a poor record of responding to calls for rescue from lost migrants dying in the desert.
  • Mexico’s Animal Político published a disturbing revelation about the Mexican government’s response to abuse of migrants. The country’s nominally independent human rights ombudsman’s office, the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH), had collected 32 documents’ worth of accounts of horrific abuses of migrants traveling through Mexico—some of them with the participation of security and immigration forces. But the CNDH, which is supposed to advocate for victims and seek to hold abusers accountable, sat on this information.
  • As the Biden administration stands down on border wall construction, get ready for more discussion of building a high-tech “smart wall.” We’re starting to see some smart discussion of the risks of installing more sensors, cameras, drones, biometric data collectors, and the like, and giving them to our troubled border agencies. This Truthoutanalysis by Candice Bernd is an excellent place to start. A key quote, from Jacinta González, an organizer at Mijente: “What we’ve seen over and over again is, a lot of these companies, they start to create new technologies for war zones, they bring them to a militarized border, and then they start to use them across the U.S. We then start to see these technologies normalized and brought to local police departments.”
  • It’s always revelatory when InsightCrime profiles a previously unknown person who turns out to be a crucial node on the network of Latin American organized crime. You’d expect the mayor of a Guatemalan town that borders both El Salvador and the Pacific—the very definition of “trafficking corridor”—to be compromised, and Carlos Roberto Marroquín Fuentes, the mayor of Moyuta, very much is. InsightCrime also published their annual “homicide roundup” this week, and while I wish they didn’t have to, this is still the only resource where you can easily find this piece of violent-crime data for the whole region.

Monday, February 8

  • 3:30–4:45 at wilsoncenter.org: Barred at the Border: Compassionate Policy Options for Safe Family Reunification (RSVP required).

Tuesday, February 9

  • 10:00–1:00 at Zoom: Tortura y Crisis Sanitaria: Acciones urgentes para cumplir los compromisos internacionales y garantizar la integridad personal en tiempos de COVID-19 (RSVP required).
  • 11:00 at rodeemoseldialogo.org: Perspectivas de Paz con el ELN en 2021 (RSVP required).
  • 2:00–3:00 at wilsoncenter.org: Mexico and United States: From subordination to expectation (RSVP required).

Wednesday, February 10

  • 11:00–12:00 at uchicago.edu: Violence and Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean—Gang Rule: An Experiment in Countering Criminal Governance (RSVP required).
  • 11:30–1:00 at wilsoncenter.org: El Salvador’s Legislative Elections: Whither Democracy? (RSVP required).
  • 3:00 at venezuelablog.org: ‘Venezuela Speaks:’ An open window to transformation (RSVP required).

Thursday, February 11

  • 7:00–8:00pm at williamjperrycenter.org: Security Challenges in the Caribbean in the Age of COVID: 2021 and Beyond (RSVP required).
  • 8:30pm at Migratory Notes: Migratory Notes Town Hall: Covering Central American Migration (RSVP required).

Friday, February 12

  • 9:30–11:00 at wola.org: Evaluating the Impact of Ending Diesel Swaps in Venezuela (RSVP required).

Some tweets that made me laugh last week

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