Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #6

This was a pretty intense week on the job, but I feel like we have a lot to show for it. As a result, though, this is going to be a pretty long e-mail. Apologies in advance! Let's get into it.

Few upcoming events this week

First, this coming week could be a bit calmer. I only see one Latin America-related event happening in Washington, after scanning Congress, the think tanks, and the universities. That's very unusual.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

  • 12:30–2:00 at the Georgetown University Intercultural Center: Ecuador & U.S. Bilateral Relations: Insights from Ambassador Francisco Carrión Mena (RSVP required).

October 16—Staying on Course: Security, Coca, Justice, and Accord Implementation in Colombia

That's fine, though, because we've got a big public conference of our own to put together. It happens in just over two weeks. If you're in Washington and care even a little about Colombia, please mark off October 16 on your calendar. We'll be joined by a big group from Colombia. It includes a former senator and vice-presidential candidate, a former congressman, a transitional-justice magistrate, a truth commissioner, really smart experts and committed activists.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 8:30am-4:00pm

Root Room, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC

Light lunch, coffee, and simultaneous translation will be provided. Video will be available at WOLA’s website (wola.org) after the event.

Two years after Colombia signed a historic peace accord with the FARC, Latin America’s largest guerrilla group, much is uncertain. Amid uneven implementation of the accord, armed and criminal groups—some made up of demobilized guerrillas—are filling territorial vacuums and encroaching on ethnic-minority communities. Murders of independent social leaders have reached epidemic proportions. A new president who had led opposition to the accord seeks to make adjustments. Complex transitional-justice cases are just getting started. Coca cultivation has reached new records. Negotiations with the ELN guerrilla group are stalled. Meanwhile, most messages from the U.S. government are about coca and the crisis in neighboring Venezuela—not consolidation of peace.

WOLA is pleased to bring to Washington a remarkable group of leaders, practitioners, and experts from Colombia. They will dive deeply into these and other current challenges in an all-day event, open to the public.

Here is the agenda. Join us.

A Huge Setback for Civil-Military Relations in Guatemala

Reuters photo from The Guardian.

I was disappointed to see Guatemala’s military—which had briefly taken a reformist direction—aggressively, enthusiastically supporting President Jimmy Morales’s crackdown on the CICIG anti-corruption body. WOLA  posted a piece I wrote about that. What’s happened with Guatemala’s army since August 31 obliterates a few halting steps that it had taken toward being a credible, accountable institution. It brings back the bad old days.

Here’s an excerpt. The whole thing is here.

In the widest-angle photo available online of Morales’s defiant August 31 announcement, 75 people appear in the frame, including Morales. Sixty-eight of them are in uniform; at least fifteen wear the maroon beret of the Army’s feared Kaibiles Special Forces. The clear message: the high command supports Morales’s move against the CICIG in the strongest terms. Sixty officers standing behind the president is more than just checking a box to comply with an order from the commander in chief.
Even more blatant was a show of military force outside CICIG’s headquarters on the morning of the 31st. A convoy of military transport vehicles, helmeted gunners poised at their machine-gun turrets, drove through the CICIG’s prosperous, well-guarded Guatemala City neighborhood and circulated several times around its offices. Vehicles pulled up outside the U.S. embassy and those of other countries known to support CICIG, and near the homes and offices of prominent human rights defenders.
These vehicles were donated to Guatemala through U.S. Defense Department accounts legally authorized only to help the military and police interdict drugs or combat organized crime. Some bear the title “Trinational Task Force,” denoting a unit, created with U.S. assistance, meant to operate at Guatemala’s borders, far from the capital. At four points along Guatemala’s borders, military-police-prosecutorial Interagency Task Forces, created with over US$40 million in aid from the Defense Department’s Counter-Drug and Counter-Transnational Organized Crime account, have been operating since 2013. The Pentagon has provided them with hundreds of vehicles like these.
…Unless something changes soon, the Guatemalan armed forces’ aggressive support for Jimmy Morales’s rollback of anti-corruption reforms has set their institution on a path back to its darkest periods. It extinguishes a hopeful moment in which Guatemala’s Army, with U.S. government accompaniment, took a few halting steps toward legitimacy.

It goes on like that.

The Army’s Role in the Anti-CICIG Backlash is a Severe Setback for Guatemala’s Civil-Military Relations

Western Hemisphere Regional

The violence in Acapulco has created a dystopia where social norms have broken down

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

Though a vast majority of these respondents were aware of the stricter US immigration policy regime, this awareness had no effect on their consideration of emigration as a viable strategy


Hoy, Chichi (170 000 habitantes) es una de las ciudades menos homicidas en la región más homicida del mundo –el Triángulo Norte de Centroamérica–, con una tasa de asesinatos inferior a la de Chile, Bélgica o Canadá. ¿Quiere saber por qué?


How prosecutors tied a brazen murder in an upscale Dallas suburb to one of Mexico’s most violent criminal organizations
Las corporaciones policiales y el mismo Ejército forman parte de los ejecutores de estas acciones violentas que tienen como móvil destruir un proyecto educativo que ha sido la cuna de la conciencia social

I was on a panel at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, talking about the origins of violence in Central America

Thanks to Steve Hege and USIP for inviting me to a good conversation with great questions from the audience. We went well below the surface here.

I was also on a panel at Washington College in Maryland, talking about U.S. policy toward Mexico and border security

Greg Weeks recorded the audio of our panel discussion at Washington University Monday night, and has posted it to his podcast. I talked about U.S. aid to Mexico and border security. (Direct link to the mp3 file)

Here are six U.S. government reports from the past month about Latin America

I haven't had a chance to read most of these yet, either.

Written answers to questions submitted by the Senate Armed Services Committee to the nominee to head Southern Command.
Customs and Border Protection’s drone program, which performs surveillance over U.S. soil, is not sufficiently considering privacy or data security shortcomings.
An explanatory memo accompanying the President’s annual determination of which countries are “decertified” for failure to cooperate with counterdrug efforts—in this case, Bolivia and Venezuela.
The DHS Inspector General “determined that, from fiscal years 2010 to 2017, the number of assaults against CBP law enforcement officers decreased from 1,089 to 856.”
Testimony about the State Department’s response to incidents that appear to have been attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Cuba.
A look at State Department, Defense Department, and USAID police training programs in Central America reveals concerns about how human rights information is incorporated.

And here's an overview of what happened during the previous week in Colombia's peace process.

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

The past week in Colombia’s peace process

(Week of September 16-22) UNODC Publishes Its 2017 Coca Cultivation Estimate The UN Office on Drugs and Crime published an executive summary of its 2017 estimate of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia. The UN agency has usually produced this document, in complete form, in June or July of each year. Among the latest […]

Covered here, in another 3,200-word survey:

  • UNODC Publishes Its 2017 Coca Cultivation Estimate
  • Government Won’t Name an ELN Negotiating Team Until Conditions Met
  • FARC Dissident Leader “Guacho” is Wounded, Military Says
  • Three Mining Company Geologists Killed in Antioquia; Guerrilla Dissidents Blamed
  • Accord Implementation Budget Appears Insufficient
  • FARC Remains on U.S. Terrorist List
  • President Duque Meets UN Mission Chief

Speaking of Colombia

In August 2017, a top U.S. official told the Senate: Colombia's government and the ex-FARC can handle coca cultivation "their way" in Nariño department; the U.S. government will do it "our way" in Antioquia. "We will then have a test."

The UNODC's numbers for 2017 are now out:

  • Nariño: coca increased 7%.
  • Antioquia: coca increased 55%.

Not exactly passing that test. Here's the whole story:

Ouch, this statement did not age well.

Ouch, this statement did not age well.

This is William Brownfield, then the assistant secretary of state for narcotics and law enforcement affairs, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on August 2, 2017: Tranche one in this four-stage Colombian strategy was the southwest. Down in Tumaco and the province of Nariño. We are unable to support that because the FARC has, […]

"They're Killing Us" documentary

Filmmakers Tom Laffay, Emily Wright, and Daniel Bustos were in town Wednesday evening to screen their 20-minute documentary, “They’re Killing Us,” with lots of footage from Cauca, Colombia in the months after the FARC guerrillas disarmed. The film debuted on the website of The Atlantic at the end of May.

The video states that one social leader is being killed every four days in post-conflict Colombia. In the last few months, though, it’s more like one every day and a half to two days.

I’m pleased, at least, that the film drew a capacity crowd in the Busboys and Poets restaurant’s event space, in Washington’s U Street neighborhood, on a rainy Wednesday night. (Actually, this whole week was miserably rainy.) They had to turn people away for lack of space.

In Colombia, Murders Without Consequence - YouTube

(All the coverage I saw last month was about Mexico.)


Un tribunal colegiado de la Ciudad de México validó la entrada en vigor de la Ley de Seguridad Interior (LSI), aunque la Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación (SCJN) aún debe revisar
Federal officials say it is a last-ditch effort to bring peace to Acapulco, once a glamorous resort favored by Hollywood celebrities that has become one of the most murderous cities on Earth
Mexico is no closer to creating the effective local police forces that experts agree will be crucial to any effort to control soaring levels of violence
La Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos concluyó que el Ejército Mexicano y la policía estatal de Puebla incurrieron en violaciones graves, con acciones como la siembra de pruebas en los cadáveres de dos inocentes, y el atropellamiento de dos civiles
“No crime should be fought with another crime,” the commission said
Un grupo de soldados estuvo presente ayer afuera de la Facultad de Estudios Superiores (FES) Acatlán, de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, acompañando una acción de las autoridades del estado de México para detener a dos menores de edad
74% de los entrevistados calificó como “útiles” las labores de patrullaje de estas dependencias federales en el combate al crimen organizado y la inseguridad del país
Hugo Cruz photo at Proceso.
Links from the past month about organized crime-related corruption

Colombia “Corte Suprema No Remitira a la Jep Caso Contra el Exgobernador Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez” (El Espectador (Colombia), September 18, 2018). Para el alto tribunal, los homicidios de la exalcaldesa del municipio de Barrancas, Yandra Brito, su esposo y su escolta no tienen relación con el conflicto armado “Escandalo de Chuzadas Ilegales Crece Como […]

You scrolled down this far? Here's 15 songs I embedded on this site in September

I embedded Apple Music and Spotify playlists, but there's no way they'll show up in an e-mail, so go here:

The best songs I washed dishes to in September

The best songs I washed dishes to in September

Here’s 15 songs as Apple Music and Spotify playlists.

And here's 5 songs from this past week.

“oh baby (lovefingers remix)” by LCD Soundsystem (2018). A remix that's an improvement.
“Next Time / Humble Pie” by The Internet (2018). This entire album is fantastic.
“Everything Connected” by Jon Hopkins (2018). I took the rest of the week in an instrumental direction.
“Inconsist” by Ólafur Arnalds (2018). Iceland!
“Near” by Deafheaven (2018). So pretty when they leave out the black-metal screamy singer.
Some articles I found interesting Monday, September 24

Some articles I found interesting Monday, September 24

(Even more here) September 24, 2018 Western Hemisphere Regional Ann Fordham, Hannah Hetzer, John Walsh, Martin Jelsma, “The Problem With Trump’s ‘Call to Action’ on Drug Policy at the u.n.” (Drug Policy Alliance, International Drug Policy Consortium, Transnational Institute, WOLA, Washington Office on Latin America, September 24, 2018). Quite a few governments that have enacted […]

Some articles I found interesting Tuesday, September 25

Some articles I found interesting Tuesday, September 25

(Catching up after a busy week… Even more here) September 25, 2018 Western Hemisphere Regional Adam Taylor, “Why Some U.S. Allies Didn’t Sign Up for Trump’s Pledge to Fight Drugs” (The Washington Post, September 25, 2018). Many of the non-signatories view the U.S.-led document as too narrow compared with previously agreed upon U.N. provisions on […]

Some articles I found interesting Wednesday, September 26

Some articles I found interesting Wednesday, September 26

(Catching up after a busy week… Even more here) September 26, 2018 Colombia “Desde el Viernes, Habra una Multa de $ 208.000 por Dosis Minima” (El Tiempo (Colombia), September 26, 2018). Desde este viernes, con la firma del decreto, si la Policía sorprende a un ciudadano en espacio público con las dosis señaladas, se destruirá la […]

The day ahead: September 28, 2018

The day ahead: September 28, 2018

I’m in the office, but trying to catch up on overdue projects. (How to contact me) My calendar is clear today—I arranged that deliberately—and I should be in the office all day. However, I may have the door closed and the phone on mute as I try to catch up on what’s happened this week (UNGA, […]

Some articles I found interesting Thursday, September 27

Some articles I found interesting Thursday, September 27

(Catching up after a busy week… Even more here) September 27, 2018 Western Hemisphere Regional Matt Novak, “U.S. Border Patrol Flew More Drone Missions Last Year Than Ever Before” (Gizmodo, September 27, 2018). The fact that CBP regularly uses drones in American airspace might be news to some people who think that aerial surveillance is […]

Some articles I found interesting Friday, September 28

Some articles I found interesting Friday, September 28

(Even more here) September 28, 2018 Western Hemisphere Regional Damian Paletta, “Trump Signs Bill That Averts Government Shutdown, Sets Up Fight Over Border Wall” (The Washington Post, September 28, 2018). The measure requires lawmakers to revisit other contentious measures in just two months, including whether to devote billions of dollars toward the construction of a […]

This e-mail was epically long. This is not a typical week's output. Thank you for reading all the way down, and see you next week.

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Jamie Larson