If the FARC and Colombian government reach an accord, the international community will have a large role to play. In perhaps a year, donor countries, UN agencies, and multilateral bodies will be compelled to shift gears, increasing and reorienting their aid packages. Are they ready to do that? Is the Colombian government helping them to prepare? What will the most urgent needs be? — In a memo at wola.org, I report back on my 3-day visit to Bogotá last week. I sought to get a sense of how prepared the international community is to assist an increasingly likely “post-conflict Colombia.” The troubling answer I got back is, “not very.”
There are already enough Border Patrol resources at the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress does not need to add more: Customs and Border Protection needs to distribute them to respond to the current situation. We absolutely do not need to take the drastic step of a new National Guard deployment. — From a new analysis of legislation moving through Congress, posted to wola.org.
From today’s New York Times:
“I will never do it again,” said Victoria Cordova, 30, who was deported from the United States last week with her 9-year-old daughter. She recalled a harrowing journey that included overcrowded shelters in the United States with little to eat and a confusing stream of paperwork to sign, including a document in English that she did not understand but signed anyway.
After signing the paper in a shelter in New Mexico, she said, she and several other women with children were told they would be boarding a plane back to Honduras, leading many of them to break down into tears.
Ms. Cordova has since returned to her home in a dangerous neighborhood in Tegucigalpa. She worries most now about repaying the $6,000 cost for the trip that she borrowed from neighbors, including gang members expecting quick repayment, though she is unemployed.
As the Obama administration’s deportations to Central America intensify, get ready for hundreds more stories like these.
(Click to enlarge) The unaccompanied minors humanitarian crisis is remarkably concentrated in one part of the U.S.-Mexico border. While Border Patrol must process tens of thousands of children near Texas’s southernmost point, similar numbers of agents assigned to other sectors are facing the smallest migrant flow in 40 years.
We should question calls to increase Border Patrol still further, or even call in the National Guard, when so much capacity exists elsewhere along the border.
"It’s not like Juan Valdez is going to greet them at the airport with roses."
Great words yesterday from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). Starting about 3 hours and 20 minutes into this video of yesterday’s hearing about the Obama administration’s US$3.7 billion request for dealing with unaccompanied minors at the border.
"When you’re talking to the children, you find out: why would a mother, making minimum wage, somewhere scrape together three thousand dollars—and you could imagine what it took to save that money—to send it to, essentially, a scoundrel, to bring her daugher or her son across the border? And to know the treacherous, dangerous journey that they’re going to do? If you will only risk that—the danger is so severe, we all heard these stories that are so wrenching, that we don’t even want to repeat some of them in public because of their poignancy.
"The fact is that, it’s because in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador the violence is so bad, that the violence of the journey—the violence of the journey is less, and the risk that they will take.
"And then to say, ‘We’re going to send them back!’ Send them back to what? The gang that tried to recruit a little girl and threatened the family that if the girls—two young girls—didn’t join the gang they would be killed, mutilated, or turned into something called ‘queens.’ I won’t even talk here about what that means. I could not bring myself to describe it. So what are we going to send them back to? It’s not like Juan Valdez is going to greet them at the airport with roses.
"I mean, I think we have to get a real strategy here to know why they left. Now, I’ve said repeatedly, and I will say this again: that I have felt that over the last decade we have fought four wars. We fought one in Afghanistan because of an attack on us. We fought one in Iraq that we— members voted for, I did not. Then we fought the cyber-war, which continues to be a significant threat. And I don’t minimize the threat of terrorism.
"Then I talked about the war at our border, but I was worried about drug dealers, I wasn’t worried about children. But the children are coming because of the drug dealers. So sure, we can talk about root causes and poverty, I don’t minimize that.
"But we have to really, now, I think we’ve got to focus on our hemisphere. I believe we’ve had three decades of uneven policy, in terms of looking at our own hemisphere and Central America. Senator Harkin knows about it, Senator Shelby, we come from a background that heard about the nuns that were assaulted as Maryknoll nuns. The assassination of Oscar Romero. War after war, brutality after brutality, and then, just when we’re ready to deal with it, some other thing turns our head and we’re off, running, putting on flak jackets, visiting some new issue.
"So I think we need to, in addition to all the other wars we have to fight or bring to a closure—and they’re significant, you know as Mr. Homeland Security, that there are a lot of threats to this country. But I believe that the threats of the children—the children are not threats. The children are coming because of the threat to the children.
"And I think that we have to meet the urgent needs here, and we have to then really focus on our hemisphere, and have a focused way that deals with the crime, deals with the corruption, deals with exactly where a mother will risk sending her daughter on a perilous journey because it’s less violent than what she would find staying at home with her grandmother."
Here’s a new piece at WOLA’s “Border Fact Check.” In it, I take a deep dive into what I know about the causes of the unaccompanied children crisis at the border.
“[T]he current surge is far more than a humanitarian crisis resulting from violence and economic failures in Central America. The perception of eventual legal status has been generated through your Administrative actions.”
— Letter to President Obama from 34 Republican members of Congress, July 2, 2014
The border between Texas and Mexico has seen a big recent increase in arrivals of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This July 2 letter, circulated by House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), seeks to blame the Obama administration for the crisis, citing “failed policies that encourage young individuals to put themselves in peril, leave their home countries, and make a long and dangerous journey to enter our country illegally.”
It’s unlikely that Central American families are paying such close attention to discussions of administrative changes within the U.S. executive branch. Even leaving this aside, there are at least four reasons why the House members’ letter’s claims are inaccurate.
Much more is at “Border Fact Check.”
Yesterday was Army Day in Guatemala. But for about 500 marchers in Guatemala City, it was an opportunity to remember the hundreds of thousands of people killed during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war. (Photo by EFE’s Saúl Martínez in Plaza Pública.)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has produced this map showing the hometowns of the nearly 35,000 unaccompanied Central American children it apprehended between October 1 and May 14.
According to the one-page document [PDF], Guatemalan child migrants are driven more by poverty, while Salvadoran and Honduran children are driven more by violence.
We assess these reasons vary regionally. For example, many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the US. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home.
"With peace, no more fumigations with glyphosate," promises a banner from President Juan Manuel Santos’s successful reelection campaign. The photo is from Puerto Asís, the largest city in Putumayo which, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released yesterday, is the 2nd-largest producer of coca, the plant used to make cocaine, of Colombia’s 32 departments. The image accompanies a post to the website of Andean Parliament member and longtime human rights defender Gloria Flórez.
I find it remarkable that, in Colombia’s coca heartland, the Santos campaign was promising to end its own U.S.-supported policy of spraying herbicides from aircraft. Especially when the accord that government negotiators reached in May with the FARC (which can still be revisited) doesn’t completely rule out aerial spraying.
If there is a peace accord with the FARC, the spray planes will in fact be grounded. But (a) if some communities don’t agree to voluntary eradication plans and (b) the zone is too dangerous for forced manual eradication, then the Colombian government is insisting on the right to spray the crops with herbicides from aircraft, as it does now.
Fumigation went down by more than 50 percent last year, but mainly because two spray planes were shot down in late September and early October, forcing a suspension of the program. With a review of security procedures complete, spraying resumed again this February. Contacts who have been to Putumayo and Guaviare departments in May and June say that fumigation has been intense in both departments, which according to the new UNODC report saw double-digit-percentage increases in coca cultivation last year (Colombia as a whole was unchanged).
This week we released a huge new report about what’s happening at Mexico’s border with Guatemala. It comes with a photo and video feature (slideshow? whatever it is, it’s pictured here) that was great fun to make, though it stretched my HTML and CSS abilities to their limits.
I posted several times to this blog during our field research trip for this report, back in February. As I noted then, Mexico’s southern border zone was seeing a sharp rise in migration from Central America, especially Honduras. We only saw a few, though, of the “unaccompanied minors” now overwhelming U.S. authorities in southern Texas. Most Central American children traveling without family are doing so with paid smugglers, and not passing through the migrant shelters and towns along the train lines. They pass through but spend little time in the Mexico-Guatemala border zone.
Anyway, enjoy and share the report and the slideshow. Here in Washington, I’m now helping to finish our next report, on the troubled department of Chocó in Colombia, which we visited in March.
Any day now, U.S. Border Patrol will break its record for the most “non-Mexican” migrants it apprehends in a single year. And “fiscal year 2014” still has four more months to go.
"Other than Mexican" means almost entirely Central American. And that is almost entirely Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran.
This graphic comes from our big report on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, which is coming soon and has been keeping me this week from doing much blogging, tweeting, answering email, going outside, or sleeping.
Juxtapose newly released data on the huge wave of unaccompanied minors apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol in October-May, with UNICEF’s estimate of the entire under-18 population of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in 2012.
The result is breathtaking.
Even if the math is off by a little, has the world ever seen a migration of children, unaccompanied by relatives, on this scale before?
Since October, when he became the presidential candidate of Ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s right-wing opposition party in Colombia, Óscar Iván Zuluaga has sworn to end the Colombian government’s peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, Cuba. “I have said that we have to end this and end it now,” Zuluaga said after his nomination, adding that the negotiations were “born dead” and that Colombia’s state “cannot negotiate on equal terms with an organization that keeps committing terrorist acts and recruiting children.”
On Wednesday, three days after winning the first round of the presidential vote, Zuluaga changed his position on the talks—somewhat. As part of a deal to win second-round support from Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez, who finished third on Sunday, Zuluaga said that if elected he would “continue conversing” in Havana.
Actually, despite headlines of a “180-degree turn,” Zuluaga’s shift is not dramatic. Before, he said that he would suspend the negotiations if the FARC did not unilaterally cease all hostilities within a week. Now, the agreement between Zuluaga and Ramírez would continue the peace talks for a month, unless the FARC meets a series of conditions.
These conditions, listed below, are politically appealing. They demand that the FARC take several humanitarian steps that it should be taking anyway, ceasing child recruitment, landmine use, attacks on civilian targets, and similar restraint.
But unfortunately, this package of demands is a dealbreaker.
Without a doubt, President Juan Manuel Santos would be delighted to negotiate with the FARC under the circumstances that Zuluaga suggests. He is not doing so, though, because the Colombian government has not defeated the FARC. This is not a negotiation of surrender terms. Colombia’s armed forces have weakened the guerrillas, but they remain active and wealthy enough that their leaders may prefer to get up from the table. The FARC has no chance of taking power through violence, but its 7,000-8,000 fighters and steady income from drugs, mining, and extortion make “keep fighting” a viable enough alternative to submission.
Candidate Zuluaga’s conditions are a brilliant political move: to a semi-engaged Colombian voter, they give the impression that it is possible to have peace with the FARC while radically improving their behavior now. It’s like promising voters they can eat all the ice cream they want without gaining weight. And it leaves President Santos counseling Colombians to eat their vegetables within the peace talks’ current framework.
Why are these conditions a dealbreaker? Let’s look at them.
a. First, we will evaluate what was discussed on the three points that, according to public reports, have been completed, and we will make our evaluation known to public opinion.
In other words, the Zuluaga government reserves the right to reject what was agreed in the negotiations’ first three (of five) substantive agenda points, effectively rolling the talks back to where they were in October 2012. It is hard to imagine the guerrillas accepting this.
b. In the first month we will request, as tangible displays of peace to continue with the process, the following conditions that respond to citizens’ clamor:
1. Immediately stop the recruitment of minors.
2. Stop laying antipersonnel mines, and deliver to the government the maps of minefields in order to begin immediate demeaning.
These demands, while eminently reasonable, are impossible to verify. And they could snarl the talks anytime word emerges that a guerrilla unit somewhere in the country may have recruited an underage person or used an IED.
The guerrillas deserve sharp condemnation for using anti-personnel mines, and Colombia’s armed forces deserve praise for abandoning their use. But as the FARC uses minefields as an “asymmetrical warfare” tactic to protect the encampments of some of their top leaders, it is doubtful that they will agree to turn over “maps of minefields,” which would leave those leaders more vulnerable.
3. Stop terrorist attacks against the population.
4. Stop war crimes.
5. Suspend attacks on infrastructure.
The guerrillas would be likely to agree to these conditions as part of a larger, bilateral cease-fire—something they have been advocating since the talks started. But note that Zuluaga is not proposing a cease-fire here. The FARC would remain at liberty to hit military and police targets around the country without jeopardizing the talks. And the military’s hands would not be tied, it would remain free to go on the offensive against the FARC.
6. The government will agree with the FARC on a fixed time period for negotiations.
This is a demand that the guerrillas have always rejected. And it is almost meaningless anyway, because extensions are always obtained easily by last-minute moves that leave the impression that the talks have momentum. “We’ve gotten this far, we can’t abandon the process now.”
Besides, the FARC faces a sort of natural deadline for the talks anyway. Colombia holds municipal and departmental elections in October 2015. These would be the guerrillas’ last chance to run candidates for public office until March 2018 congressional elections. Given that it would take a few months for legal approval of peace accords and the registry of FARC-tied candidates, the process needs to finish in about a year in order for those candidates to run in October 2015.
7. We will insist on the FARC’s compliance with its commitment to cease kidnapping and extortion, and on the necessity for this group to cease activities related to narcotrafficking.
Again, this is politically attractive, but impossible to verify and could easily snarl the talks. Also, fully ceasing such activities would require the FARC’s leadership to exercise a degree of command and control that even Colombia’s security forces don’t have, as numerous scandals have revealed local police and military officials’ own relationships to narcotrafficking.
Still, this is a brilliant political move on the part of Oscar Iván Zuluaga. It leaves President Santos in the uncomfortable position of defending a peace process that tacitly tolerates some child recruitment, landmines, narcotrafficking, and similar crimes.
This is, of course, not because Santos is a poor negotiator. It’s because, 14 years after Plan Colombia and 12 years after Álvaro Uribe’s Democratic Security offensive, the FARC are still not defeated—and battlefield defeat remains a years-away prospect.
Will Colombian voters get this kind of complexity? Zuluaga and Uribe are betting that they won’t, and that the peace process will end.
"So far this fiscal year [October-May], the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector has apprehended more than 140,000 people, with 70 percent from countries other than Mexico, mostly Central Americans.”
— Border Patrol data cited here and in other recent coverage.
If we work off of those assumptions:
In one eight-month period, in just one of the nine sectors into which it divides the U.S.-Mexico border (easternmost Texas), the U.S. Border Patrol may have captured one out of every 600 Central American citizens.
That doesn’t count those who avoided apprehension, or the (probably smaller) number who traveled to the other eight U.S. border sectors.
That is stunning. And it says a lot about how dire the situation is today in Central America, especially the “northern triangle” countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.