Adam Isacson's Latin America Blog

Sep 28

5 links from the past week

The think tank calls on the international community, especially the Union of South American States (UNASUR), to take steps to avoid “further violence sooner or later.” A very good overview of the past months’ failed efforts to negotiate and the current opportunity—slim but perhaps possible with international accompaniment—to achieve greater political balance on the Supreme Court and Electoral Council.

A retired Salvadoran Army colonel known for his unusually strong pro-human rights stance suffered the murder of his son in April. He is convinced that elements of El Salvador’s armed forces are responsible, and the lack of a serious investigation seems to prove him right. Raises disturbing warning signs about a military that often gets held up as an example of how U.S. assistance can improve a foreign force’s human rights performance.

By far the best “explainer” piece laying out the reasons for the sharp decrease in arrivals of unaccompanied Central American migrant children since July. These include the Mexican government’s crackdown, U.S. authorities’ greater detention and deportation of family units, the nature of the rumors migrant smugglers were spreading, and U.S.-funded public awareness efforts. Lind notes that the violence that pushed so many migrants out in the first place persists.

Colombian government and FARC guerrilla negotiators have worked for more than two years under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” As a result, the three draft accords reached so far (land and rural development, political participation, drug policy) have been kept secret so that they could be revisited later. This week, though, negotiators agreed to make the three drafts public in order to counter critics’ misrepresentations of them. Here, León concludes that “if even half of these accords are fulfilled, Colombia will pass through a profound democratic revolution.”

A year after coming to agreement with El Salvador on a US$277 million package of mostly infrastructure aid, the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation finally has approval to start delivering it. It dragged on so long because different parts of the Obama administration had held the disbursement up for varying reasons. Treasury was worried about dollarized El Salvador’s money-laundering regulations. U.S. Trade Representative was concerned about a Salvadoran program providing cheap corn and bean seeds. Rogers writes that the process “became almost a case study in how the competing agendas of different factions inside MCC can be a challenge themselves.”

Sep 25

Colombia’s draft peace accords are now public

Yesterday the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas published the text of the three draft peace accords upon which they have so far agreed. Because they are drafts—they can be revisited and amended until the moment a final overall accord is reached—these texts were, until now, a closely guarded secret. The parties decided to release the accords’ text in order to counter political critics’ misrepresentations of their content.

I gave these texts a first-cut read (60+ pages in 60 minutes) and came to three conclusions.

Sep 24

Big Central America aid request coming

From a briefing yesterday with a “U.S. State Department Official” who met with counterparts from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly:

The Foreign Minister of Honduras for the group led, and she presented the Secretary, on behalf of the three of them, with a plan. The plan is called The Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle. The three countries are often referred to as the Northern Triangle of Central America. It is – it looks fairly comprehensive. Obviously, we have to take a look at the whole plan. We haven’t read all of it; it’s quite long.

Sep 21

5 links from the past week

Two very in-depth studies (actually I haven’t finished reading them yet) of how the United States’ multi-year aid package to Central America is playing out in Guatemala and Honduras. Thoroughly researched and mostly well-written. The Guatemala one is more upbeat than the Honduras one.

We’re all still trying to figure out how the badguys always seem to come out on top in Guatemala. Steven Dudley peels back a layer, putting under a microscope how corruption and influence-peddling networks, involving both traditional wealthy families and recent upstart elites, gain control over institutions like the justice system. (And, as a result, guarantee that Guatemala will remain an undeveloped country for another generation.) “Guatemala has networks of current and ex-officials who—either through their control of key government posts, their ability to control policy, or their economic might—are sucking the country dry.”

Semana still does some of the best reporting on Colombia’s ever-morphing conflict, or organized crime emergency, or whatever you want to call it. No guerrillas are in this story of terrified populations living in this region about 2 hours’ drive from Medellín. “The territory was divided [in 2010] into franchises handed out by the Úsuga clan, which runs the Urabeños” neo-paramilitary group.

The AP’s Stevenson noted at the time that there was something fishy about a June 30 shootout between Mexico’s army and a gang of 21 men and one woman, all of whom were killed even though soldiers sustained no casualties. (“There have been so many such incidents that human rights groups and analysts have begun to doubt the military’s version.”) Now, Stevenson reports on new witness revelations—which first emerged in, of all places, Esquire Latin America, accusing the military of summarily executing the gang members, one by one, after they had already given up.

It sounds more like 1904 than 2014, but the September 8 bombing in the Santiago metro, which wounded 14 people, may have been the work of an anarchist group. In Chile, where it playeed an important role in the labor movement in the first half of the 20th century, anarchism “has resurged in recent years.” The country’s most prominent anarchists, though, disavow the use of violence and repudiate the subway attack.

Sep 18

Sep 16

“Fox News itself has covered the threats in different ways. After senior administration officials testified at a Senate hearing last week about ISIS, an article on FoxNews.com about the testimony ran under the headline ‘D.H.S. Confirms ISIS Planning Infiltration of U.S. Southern Border.’ An article on Fox News Latino about the same hearing had the headline: ‘ISIS Terrorists Not Sneaking Over U.S. Southern Border With Mexico, D.H.S. Officials Tell Congress.’” — From today’s New York Times.

Sep 13

Five links from the past week

The veteran Colombia-based reporter explores a thorny dilemma. Right-wing paramilitary leaders who demobilized in a mid-2000s transitional justice arrangement are leaving prison after eight years of time served, even before their cases are judged. This is outrageous, but to keep them longer would send a terrible message to left-wing guerrillas currently negotiating their own demobilization.

A favela pacification program has been going on for more than five years in Rio de Janeiro. But gang dominance, state neglect, and brazen drug dealing are unchanged in the city’s less centrally located slums, where police work continues to be a violent slog.

This conservative editorial from Argentina’s most-circulated daily worries that President Cristina Fernández’s government is weakening defense capacity at the same time that it pushes the military to play new internal, even political, roles. It claims that the country’s Air Force has less than five working fighter jets and one working transport plane, yet the military’s intelligence budget has “multiplied by exponential levels.”

A narrative of the May-to-July odyssey of two Salvadoran children whose mother paid a smuggler US$10,000 to bring to the United States. They meet corrupt Mexican cops, get kidnapped and released, end up in Border Patrol custody, and are reunited (via Miami) with family in North Carolina, where they’re awaiting their immigration court date. A good multimedia feature maps all this out.

After a bomb in the Santiago subway injures about a dozen people, the author challenges the application of a Pinochet-era antiterrorism law against the still-unidentified perpetrators. “The decision to judge an act as ‘terrorist’ is the choice to live in a world where, without knowing how or why or when, we authorize the police and prosecutors to do things in a manner that we usually consider unacceptable.”

Sep 11

Obama Vows To Split ISIS Into Dozens Of Extremist Splinter Groups -

Today’s best analysis of the United States’ newest war comes from The Onion.

Sep 09

In a step-by-step series of maps, Mexico’s Animal Político follows the May 1 - July 13 journey of two Salvadoran kids whose mother paid a smuggler US$10,000 to bring them to the United States. The accompanying article (Spanish) is here.

In a step-by-step series of maps, Mexico’s Animal Político follows the May 1 - July 13 journey of two Salvadoran kids whose mother paid a smuggler US$10,000 to bring them to the United States. The accompanying article (Spanish) is here.

Sep 08

Five Links from the Past Week

A look at possible changes in the FARC guerrillas’ negotiating team, plus peace-related tensions within Colombia’s military. El Espectador is doing the most thorough reporting about Colombia’s peace process, usually with a couple of stories like this one each week. (See also “Hablándole a la tropa.”)

It’s a silly argument, and Professor Weeks takes it apart, reminding us that it’s not about Venezuela, it’s not about CELAC, it’s not about trade, or China, or substance-free official visits.

A detailed account of the web of corruption that ex-Guatemalan Army Captain Byron Lima dominated from his luxurious prison cell, despite serving time for killing a bishop who published a human rights report in 1998. Explains how the innovative UN prosecutorial body in Guatemala, the CICIG, built its case against Lima.

It looks like Evo Morales will be headed for a third term after October 12 elections. If you haven’t followed Bolivia closely lately, AIN gives a quick but comprehensive overview of why Morales is doing well politically, as well as the poor state of U.S.-Bolivia relations.

An overview of the latest challenges from the First Capital Command (PCC), Brazil’s powerful, prison-based, mostly unopposed organized crime syndicate. “They are not so much a rapacious band of thugs as a kind of inmate shadow government.”

Sep 05

A chart in La Prensa shows (in local currency) the remarkable recent growth in Nicaragua’s defense budget. Much of this spending has gone to arms purchases from Russia. Neighboring Costa Rica’s government has voiced public concern about these purchases, as the two countries have difficult relations after a series of border disputes.

A chart in La Prensa shows (in local currency) the remarkable recent growth in Nicaragua’s defense budget. Much of this spending has gone to arms purchases from Russia. Neighboring Costa Rica’s government has voiced public concern about these purchases, as the two countries have difficult relations after a series of border disputes.

Sep 04

U.S. Southern Command published a burst of six news releases yesterday covering military exercises and exchanges with four different Latin American countries.

Chile: Texas Nat’l Guard, Chilean special ops conduct paratrooper training in Texas
Guatemala: Southern Partnership Station engagement mission in Guatemala completed
Guatemala: US military, Guatemalan doctors provide care in rural Guatemalan village
Honduras: Southern Partnership Station 2014 continues in Honduras
Honduras: DoD Official: JTF-Bravo on the leading edge in Central America
Peru: USS America visits Peru for final stop of maiden transit
This illustrates the continued breadth and depth—despite budget cuts—of U.S. military-to-military engagement in Latin America. In some of these countries, it’s fair to wonder whether civilian-to-civilian government engagement is this robust.

U.S. Southern Command published a burst of six news releases yesterday covering military exercises and exchanges with four different Latin American countries.

This illustrates the continued breadth and depth—despite budget cuts—of U.S. military-to-military engagement in Latin America. In some of these countries, it’s fair to wonder whether civilian-to-civilian government engagement is this robust.

"Hang on! I’m going to speed up," says Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in this El Tiempo cartoon.

While government officials have begun referring to peace talks with the FARC as “in the home stretch” or “in a definitive phase,” the guerrillas say there is a long way to go.

"Hang on! I’m going to speed up," says Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in this El Tiempo cartoon.

While government officials have begun referring to peace talks with the FARC as “in the home stretch” or “in a definitive phase,” the guerrillas say there is a long way to go.

Sep 02

“Are ISIS terrorists in Mexico, preparing to attack the United States? U.S. officials say, ‘no,’ but not everyone believes that’s the case.” —

From Fox News Houston, which goes on to cite no evidence whatsoever.

In fact, the brutal fundamentalist group has so far showed almost no interest in attacking the United States on its soil, as the New York Times observed last week.

ISIS had so far consistently focused on what militants call “the near enemy” — leaders of Muslim countries like Bashar al-Assad of Syria — and not “the far enemy” of the United States and Europe. … Nowhere in the hourlong [ISIS video] production — full of threats, drive-by shootings, explosions and gunfights — does an ISIS fighter mention the United States or directly mention or threaten Israel.

Aug 30

Five Links from the Past Week

From an excellent series in which the veteran Mexico correspondent travels the length of the train routes used by Central American migrants. Along with the Associated Press, Corchado finds that the route has become more dangerous because of Mexico’s new, U.S.-backed southern border security strategy. Animal Político reviews what is new in that strategy.

Mexico also just launched its Gendarmería, a 5,000-person mobile, sort of paramilitary police unit, a watered-down version of something that President Enrique Peña Nieto had proposed during the 2012 campaign. Flannery reviews coverage and commentary. See also Alejandro Hope wondering what the Gendarmería’s purpose is, and Fundar raising human rights and civil-military relations concerns.

In a cover story that rocked Colombian politics this week, a computer hacker detained for his role in illegal communications intercepts alleges that the campaign of President Juan Manuel Santos’s right-wing opponents, along with some military officers, urged him to hack into the e-mail accounts of government peace negotiators and even the President.

The Havana peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC guerrillas are structured so that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” This means that although agreements exist on three agenda items, aspects of them are not fully settled. López, a Cuban analyst who clearly has some access to the private proceedings, lists 28 topics that are currently “in the freezer” to be revisited later. See also the sober but optimistic analysis of the talks—-which are actually at a high point right now—-in this El Espectador interview with Georgetown University’s Marc Chernick, who has been studying Colombia since 1980.

No Latin American leader had a worse week than Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. Five weeks before the presidential vote, her reelection no longer looks inevitable: she’s tied in the polls and the economy is now officially in recession.