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Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #52

Weekly adamisacson.com - Issue #52
By Weekly adamisacson.com • Issue #52 • View online
So this is it. This is the week where most of us hit our “one year of social distancing” anniversaries.
Mine is pretty vivid. On the morning of Wednesday, March 11 (my half-birthday, I turned 49½), I took a crowded Metro (subway) car to Capitol Hill, mushed against other people and thinking, “this can’t be good.” I entered a House office building, going through a level of security that we’re probably going to look back on as quaint now.

Then I sat in a crowded hearing room, for the last time:
Adam Isacson
Good turnout, lousy seat for today’s House Armed Services hearing on “U.S. Military Activity in North and South America.” https://t.co/LhT5ts0qrq https://t.co/zcG7R2D3J9
By the afternoon, it was clear we weren’t going to be doing this anymore. We were absorbing the news about the extreme measures Italy was taking, locking down the population. They seemed extreme at the time, didn’t they. And by the end of the day, every last trip, conference, and in-person meeting on my calendar had been postponed or canceled.
Adam Isacson
I just had my last cancellation. For the first time since I guess the 1990s, I have neither confirmed travel nor out-of-town visitors on my calendar.
Coming home at dinnertime, I said to my wife and daughter, “Maybe just in case, we should go to Costco and stock up.” When we showed up, we found that everyone in the city had the same idea. We got a faraway parking space and were already too late for toilet paper and basic grains.
Adam Isacson
Judging from what’s gone at my local supermarket, my neighbors will be riding this out eating chicken parts, rice, squishy white bread, and spring water.

Then, toilet paper. All of the toilet paper.
The next day, Thursday the 12th, I returned to my office to retrieve things that I’d need for what I’d thought would be a couple of months. I’ve only been back to my office once since then, last June, to get a couple of plants, books, and electronics.
(I know I’m speaking from a position of privilege in this paragraph) The United States is more functional than it had been, so as of now all of our parents have been vaccinated, and my daughter just got her first one yesterday. Maybe I will by May, so it’s possible I could be traveling again by June or so, which I’m dying to do. It will be amazing to actually see my co-workers and teammates in three dimensions, like my assistant Matt who started with us on March 1, 2020.
Still, there are aspects of working at home that I’ll miss. I’ll see less of my family. There will be commutes, dressing up for not-always-necessary in-person meetings, more “synchronous” communication like random knocks on the office door just as I have momentum on a project. And unfortunately, all of these regular mailings and updates may get uneven once this well-worn routine ends. I’ll probably miss weeks here and there.
But I’ll deal with that when it actually happens. For now, take a moment and just think of all we’ve been through. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, congratulate yourself for getting through this winter, which was weirdly both very long and very short. This is what a year, once around the sun, feels like.
Anyway—no good segue here—this week’s e-mail has an event video, some very eventful weekly Colombia and border updates, 5 good links, 18 upcoming events, and 6 funny tweets. Have a good 52nd week.
Video of Friday's Colombia coca event
Many thanks to our longtime friends and colleagues at the International Crisis group for joining us at this event. Though the topic is complex and often frustrating to teach, everybody explained well what they’ve been learning in the field, and the points that they wanted to get across. The moderation, interpretation, and technical aspects were all spot-on. We had well over 150 live viewers—I was glad to see the number not dropping as we passed the one-hour mark—and at least 200 more since then.
And don’t miss the February 26 ICG report on coca in Colombia, “Deeply Rooted,” on which this discussion centers.
Colombia Peace Update: March 6, 2021
During at least the first half of 2021, we’re producing weekly updates in English about peace accord implementation and related topics.
Prosecutor asks to acquit Álvaro Uribe
Colombia’s Prosecutor-General’s Office (Fiscalía) recommended on March 5 that former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) not be prosecuted for allegations of witness tampering. The case had Uribe, the founder of President Iván Duque’s political party, the Centro Democrático, under house arrest between August and October. It now goes to a judge, whose decision about whether to drop charges is certain to be appealed.
Here is a quick overview of what has happened:
  • In 2012 ex-president Uribe accused a political opponent, then-representative Iván Cepeda, of visiting imprisoned former paramilitary leaders and bribing them to give false evidence tying Uribe to paramilitary groups. Cepeda, whose senator father was killed in 1994 by paramilitaries working with an official who would take a leading position in Uribe’s presidential intelligence service, was investigating Uribe’s possible links to the rightwing armed groups.
  • Because the accusation was against a sitting member of Congress (Rep. Cepeda later became a senator, along with Uribe, in 2014), Colombia’s Supreme Court took up the case investigation.
  • In 2018, the Supreme Court determined that Iván Cepeda had neither paid nor pressured the former paramilitaries with whom he had met, exonerating him. Instead, in a bombshell finding, the Court turned the tables and announced it would be investigating Álvaro Uribe and his attorney for “procedural fraud and bribery”: essentially, offering bribes to a cast of characters of minor ex-paramilitaries in exchange for false testimony. The charges could carry a prison term of up to 12 years.
  • On August 12, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered Senator Álvaro Uribe placed under house arrest at his ranch in Córdoba. It issued a 1,500-page document laying out evidence against Uribe and his attorney, Diego Cadena, including videos, audios, intercepts, and WhatsApp transcripts. A February 28 column by investigative journalist Daniel Coronell recalls some of the incriminating conversations.
  • On August 18, Uribe resigned his Senate seat, which placed him outside the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. On September 3, the Supreme Court handed the case over to the Fiscalía, which since January 2020 has been headed by Francisco Barbosa, a friend of Iván Duque’s since college. The Fiscalía had six months to decide whether to proceed with the case, a term that expired last week. The prosecutor put in charge of the case, Gabriel Jaimes, had worked in the past as “right-hand man” for one of the most conservative figures in Colombian politics, former inspector-general, current OAS Ambassador, and Uribe supporter Alejandro Ordóñez.
  • Uribe was released from house arrest on October 10.
  • On March 5, Gabriel Jaimes asked the judiciary to terminate (or “preclude”) the investigation against Álvaro Uribe, writing that Uribe’s conduct didn’t “have the characteristic of crime,” and that any crimes that may have been committed didn’t involve Uribe.
“Thank God for this positive step,” Uribe tweeted. Uribe’s attorney Jaime Granados, who has defended several politicians and military officers accused of human rights crimes, told media that Jaimes’s request to drop the case “was the only possible conclusion the investigators could reach.”
Sen. Iván Cepeda retorted that “Prosecutor Jaimes practically became Uribe’s lawyer… the positions of the Prosecutor’s Office are a mirror of Uribe’s arguments and his defense.” Cepeda’s attorney, Reinaldo Villalba of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective, called Jaimes’s decision “reckless. The road to impunity continues its course, but it can be stopped, we hope, by the judges of the Republic.”
The prosecutor’s request to drop the case must now go before a judge, which is supposed to happen within five business days but may take longer. If the judge grants the request to end the investigation, Sen. Cepeda—who is classified as a “victim” in this case—can appeal it. If the judge finds that the investigation should continue, the Fiscalía can appeal it.
An appeal will take months. If the appeals judge agrees with the Fiscalía, then the Uribe case is over. If the appeals judge finds ground to continue Uribe’s prosecution, then the Fiscalía must either come up with new arguments (out of a short list of allowed arguments) to drop the case, forcing the courts to do this all over again—or it must prosecute Álvaro Uribe, apparently against its prosecutors’ will.
The Uribe case is likely to drag on, then, for many more months, steadily overlapping the campaign for Colombia’s March 2022 presidential elections.
Illicit crop eradication the subject of several notable new documents
Two State Department reports that became public last week congratulated Colombia’s government for its aggressive approach to illicit crop eradication and its movement toward reinstating a controversial program to eradicate coca by spraying herbicides from aircraft.
On February 23, the State Department delivered to Congress a required report, which became public on March 1, certifying that Colombia is following a strategy to cut coca production by 50 percent by 2023. This document notes a “historic level of manual eradication despite challenges from the COVID-19, a dramatic increase in coca grower protests opposing manual eradication, and a rise in violent attacks against eradicators. Significant progress has also been made to re-establish a safe, limited, and targeted Colombian-led aerial eradication program that meets the administrative and oversight requirements established by the Colombian constitutional court.” (Colombia suspended aerial herbicide eradication in 2015, citing public health concerns.)
On March 2, the Department issued its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, a global overview. Its Colombia section laments that “the Colombian government suspended aerial eradication of coca in 2015, removing a critical tool for reducing coca cultivation,” and celebrates that “President Duque has stated publicly his intent to incorporate aerial eradication into an integrated drug control strategy.”
Both documents came as a surprise to some Colombian analysts who expected the Biden administration to adopt the more critical approach to forced eradication laid out in the December report of a bipartisan Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission. That body, whose members included some individuals considered close to the new administration, wrote that forced eradication brought “enormous costs and dismal results.” Even if it does intend to adopt such a new tone on eradication, the six-week-old Biden administration, which still lacks officials in many key positions, may not yet have the bandwidth to do so.
Five documents issued since February 26 are sharply critical of the U.S. and Colombian governments’ current approach to coca. All conclude that forced eradication, especially when not paired with alternatives, exacerbates violence and weakens governance in rural areas that badly need it.
  1. A February 26 research report from the International Crisis Group found that “security operations that pay far greater heed to the need to protect civilians and invigorate rural reforms would be more effective.” Principal author Elizabeth Dickinson presented her findings at a joint event with WOLA on March 5, and in a column at NPR that same day.
  2. 22 U.S. and international civil society organizations, including WOLA, sent a March 1 letter to President Biden encouraging him to make implementation of the 2016 peace accord a central tenet of U.S. policy toward Colombia. “We urge the United States not to restart the aerial spraying program, which will be seen as undermining the accords and will drive farmers and communities away from cooperating,” the letter reads.
  3. multimedia series published on March 1 by El Espectador, “The Battle to Substitute Coca,” tells the story of post-peace accord eradication and crop substitution from the perspective of San José del Fragua, a municipality in Caquetá. It thoroughly explores the complexities surrounding the increasingly frustrating experience of the peace accords’ neglected crop substitution program.
  4. Also in El Espectador, Ariel Ávila of the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación published a March 4 column arguing that aerial fumigation “is condemned to failure and will increase violence and set the country aflame.”
  5. Longtime drug policy scholar Juan Carlos Garzón of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz published a detailed paperthat he had written in 2020 to inform the work of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission. (English here.) Garzón found that “the current approach by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the right one; however, in practice it has come up against the inertia of anti-drug policy, in which the reduction in coca crops—measured in number of hectares eradicated—is considered the main indicator of success.” He adds, “The image of a plane spraying hectares of coca is useful to show that the state is acting rigorously and promptly, but it clearly falls short if the goal is to create fundamental change. The benefits of this tool are limited to the very short term, while the costs in terms of state legitimacy and the relationship with local communities last a very long time.”
The JEP rejects two “para-politicians” and keeps one
A small number of civilian leaders serving criminal sentences since the 2000s for supporting paramilitary groups—so-called “para-politicians”—has agreed to cooperate with the post-conflict transitional justice system, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). This week, the case of one advanced, while the post-conflict tribunal is kicking out two others.
Álvaro “El Gordo” García was a senator and powerful political boss from Sucre, a small department on Colombia’s Atlantic coast. It is among the poorest third of the country’s 32 departments. García was sentenced to 40 years in prison for helping to organize the AUC paramilitary confederation’s bloc in the Montes de María region, which carried out some of the bloodiest massacres of the entire conflict during this century’s first years. The JEP is trying Sen. García, who directed the 2000 Macayepo massacre, as a paramilitary member—not as a third-party supporter.
The JEP has agreed to take García’s case, which could earn him a shorter sentence under non-prison conditions, as long as he tells the full truth about what happened in the Montes de María and provides reparations to his victims. If he reveals what he knows, La Silla Vacía reports, García could take down with him a large number of people. “Nothing moved in Sucre without ‘Gordo’ knowing about it. If he starts to tell everything he knows, there will be no one left with a head,” a “person who worked in politics with Garcia for several years” told the investigative website. “Those guys (the paramilitaries) took over the department and the municipalities with the complacency of the police, the DAS [disbanded presidential intelligence agency], the Fiscalía and the judges,” added “a politician who was in office during those years.” For now, “El Gordo” García remains in Bogotá’s La Picota prison.
Another Sucre politician from that era is on the verge of being ejected from the JEP’s jurisdiction. Salvador Arana was the department’s governor during the early 2000s, then went on to be the Uribe government’s ambassador in Chile before the justice system caught up with him and found him guilty of colluding with paramilitaries, including to kill political rivals. The JEP has refused to release Arana from his Barranquilla prison pending trial, and last week threatened to suspend him from the transitional justice system within 30 days if he failed to show more commitment to tell the truth and recognize his victims. So far, the JEP contends, Arana “has simply accused the victims of being collaborators of the FARC, of administrative corruption, and of manipulating witnesses.”
A third “para-politician” is out: Ramiro Suárez Corzo, the 2003-07 mayor of the busy Venezuelan border city of Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, has been ejected from the JEP’s purview after three years, and will not get an opportunity for a lighter sentence. Like Arana, Suárez has been in prison for colluding with paramilitaries, who killed at least one of his political rivals. Like Arana, the JEP accuses him of failing to make significant new contributions to the truth about his case, instead denying his guilt and accusing his accusers.
Links
  • WOLA is pleased to launch a new multimedia resource and toolkit for protecting Colombia’s threatened social leaders and human rights defenders. Visit our Con Líderes Hay Paz campaign.
  • WOLA’s latest human rights update summarizes numerous alarming cases brought to our attention in recent weeks.
  • The Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (Defensoría) plays an important role in the Urabá region of northwestern Colombia, where paramilitaries displaced thousands of farmers during the conflict, and large-scale farmers appropriated their land. El Espectador and Verdad Abierta revealed that the new Defensoríarepresentative in Urabá, José Augusto Rendón, is a lawyer who aggressively defended the region’s new landowners against victims’ efforts at land restitution. On several occasions Rendón predicted that violence would result if victims got their land back. Several national human rights organizations received the nomination “with absolute bewilderment and dismay.”
  • The latest bimonthly Invamer Gallup poll of urban Colombian public opinion shows only 6 percent of respondents believing that the security situation is improving, tied for a record low along a time series going back to 2008. President Iván Duque’s approval rating remains at 36 percent, where it was two months ago. By a two-to-one margin, respondents opposed Duque’s offer of legal status to Venezuelan migrants living in Colombia, which was well received internationally.
  • Defense Minister Diego Molano reported that the armed forces killed (or in his term, “neutralized”) 13 members of the FARC dissident group headed by alias “Gentil Duarte” by bombing a site in Calamar, Guaviare.
  • The Montes de María region of northern Colombia, which as noted above saw horrific massacres during the 2000s, was relatively peaceful in the 2010s. Troublingly, El Espectador and the Corporación Nuevo Arco Irispublished reports from the region documenting an increase in threats against social leaders and indications that paramilitary-descended “Gulf Clan” is making inroads.
Weekly border update: March 5, 2021
With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border.
DHS builds up capacity for protection-seeking migrants as numbers rise
Right now the vast majority of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border, including many who would ask for asylum or other forms of protection, are being swiftly expelled under a Trump-era pandemic measure known as Title 42. The Biden administration has been taking steps, though, to increase capacity to process apprehended migrants who seek protection.
“Processing” means background checks, health screenings, and filing of asylum request paperwork. When Title 42 isn’t expelling them, most single adult asylum seekers get placed in ICE detention to await hearings in the immigration court system. Families with children, though, are usually enrolled in “alternatives to detention” programs and released into the U.S. interior to await hearing dates. This process should take less than 72 hours, especially when children are involved, but Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s capacity is often limited by the space and personnel available at ports of entry and Border Patrol stations.
The Department of Homeland Security is boosting asylum seekers’ processing by:
  • Building temporary facilities—called “soft-sided” because much of the infrastructure is tents—at Donna, in south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley (where a large processing facility, built in 2014 and famed for its chain-link fencing “cages,” is undergoing renovation); and soon at Eagle Pass, on the border in south-central Texas; and then at four or more additional sites across the border.
  • Repurposing two controversial ICE family detention facilities that opened during the Obama administration in Dilley and Karnes, Texas, which migrant rights advocates have long derided as “baby jails.” Instead of holding them until they can see an available asylum officer for a credible fear interview (or even longer), asylum-seeking families will be taken to Dilley (2,400 beds) and Karnes (839 beds) for rapid processing, then released to await screening and/or hearings. “The goal is to process and release 100 families per day,” according to plans seen by the Washington Post. If those centers fill up, an ICE contractor will transport families to hotels.
  • Hiring 300 Border Patrol processing coordinators, with a three-year goal of hiring 1,200, who will carry out most duties at these processing centers, freeing up “regular” agents whose training is in law enforcement, not asylum processing.
(These processing improvements are distinct from the opening of temporary shelters for unaccompanied children, discussed below. By the time they reach the shelters, unaccompanied kids have already been processed.)
“A detention center is not where a family belongs,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NBC News on Thursday, adding, “I believe asylum seekers, individuals who claim credible fear by reason of their membership in a particular social group, should have the opportunity to present those claims to U.S. authorities. And they should be able to present those claims in an orderly, efficient, and safe way.”
We may be seeing the outlines of a different vision for handling the border’s changed reality of asylum-seeking, mostly child-and-family, migration—which in many years since 2014 has accounted for over a third, or even a majority, of all apprehended migrants. With sufficient capacity, migrants who fear for their lives could present at a border port of entry rather than cross the Rio Grande or climb a fence. They could then be taken to processing centers, screened for credible fear, placed into alternatives to detention, and have their cases adjudicated as quickly as due process allows.
That vision is far off right now, as most migrants continue to be expelled under the Title 42 pandemic order. For the moment, only three categories of asylum-seeking migrants stand a reasonable chance of being released into the United States to await their hearings:
  1. Unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries. (The Trump administration sought to expel unaccompanied children, but a court order had prohibited that during Trump’s last two months in office.)
  2. Family units (parents with children) who ask for protection, from countries to where Title 42 expulsions are difficult, like Cuba and Venezuela. (The Trump administration had been applying the now-suspended “Remain in Mexico” policy to these families, sending them to Mexican border towns.)
  3. A small number of Central American families with young children, whom authorities in Tamaulipas, Mexico, have not permitted to be expelled back across the border.
A fourth category is the tightly controlled flow of asylum seekers subject to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, or “Remain in Mexico”) program, who since February 19 have begun entering the United States. Technically, these individuals were “processed” the moment they enrolled in the program, which in some cases was nearly two years ago. As of March 2, 862 people subject to MPP had been allowed to cross into the United States to await their asylum hearings.
Everyone else is subject to Title 42 expulsion. “They need to wait. It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch,” Mayorkas said on March 1. “We are not saying, ‘Don’t come.’ We are saying, ‘Don’t come now because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible.’”
Adjustments underway to handle increased arrivals of unaccompanied minors
Those getting a lot of media attention are migrants in category (1) above: children arriving without parents. A 2008 law requires that unaccompanied children not from Mexico or Canada be delivered quickly to custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which runs a network of shelters. Children in these shelters are then placed with relatives or other sponsors in the United States. Pandemic measures, though, have reduced this network’s 13,200-bed capacity to 8,000, and even with the late-February opening of a 700-bed “influx facility” in Carrizo Springs, Texas, ORR is now at 94 percent of its reduced limit.
The administration projects that 117,000 unaccompanied migrant children could cross the border in fiscal 2021, which would shatter the record of 76,020 set in 2019. It expects their numbers to peak at 13,000 in May, up from 5,707 in January. We are still awaiting CBP’s February border migration data, but briefing slides seen by Axios point to “some 6,000 migrants aged 16 and 17” apprehended last month. Over the 21 days ending March 3, CNN reported, Border Patrol apprehended a daily average of 340 unaccompanied children.
When ORR shelters fill up and the agency can’t accommodate new intakes, apprehended minors end up spending more than the legally mandated maximum of 72 hours in Border Patrol’s austere holding facilities, which were designed for single adults’ short stays. The average time spent in these facilities, according to CNN, is now 77 hours. Border Patrol had 1,300 children in custody on March 2 waiting for HHS placement. In Yuma, Arizona, as of March 3 more than 600 people were crowded into a Border Patrol space designed for 104. In the Rio Grande Valley, more than 2,000 were in a space meant for 715.
In order to deal with the backup of unaccompanied children:
  • ORR is adjusting its existing shelters’ COVID-19 protocols to make room for an additional 2,000 children.
  • ORR is reopening another temporary influx facility south of Miami in Homestead, Florida, which migrant advocates revilebecause of past allegations of sexual abuse while it was under a for-profit corporation’s management, and because of its proximity to a Superfund toxic waste site.
  • ORR is implementing measures to free up shelter space by speeding children’s placement with relatives or sponsors. These include database improvements for relatives’ background checks, payment of some minors’ transportation costs, and no longer asking sponsors to provide their Social Security numbers.
  • President Biden is dispatching “senior members of his team” to the border, Reuters reports, so that upon return they may brief him on options for responding to the increase in unaccompanied minors.
Administration rejects opponents’ narrative of a “crisis”
March, April, and May are often the busiest months of the year for migrant apprehensions, and factors ranging from a regional pandemic economic depression to a new U.S. administration may make the spring of 2021 especially heavy.
Though the vast majority are being quickly expelled, Reuters reported that Border Patrol encountered 4,500 migrants on March 3 alone. If sustained over 31 days, that pace would mean 139,500 migrant encounters, the largest monthly total since 2006. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a conservative Democrat who represents a border district including Laredo, Texas, put out a March 4 release reporting that in one of CBP’s nine border sectors—the Rio Grande Valley of Texas—Border Patrol had encountered 10,000 migrants over the previous week. (In January, the Rio Grande Valley accountedfor 23 percent of all border migrant encounters.) Rep. Cuellar said Border Patrol was temporarily transferring “hundreds” of agents to the sector.
Further west in El Paso, Texas, the situation appears quieter: “The only migrants coming through El Paso are those in the Migrant Protection Protocols [‘Remain in Mexico’],” Mayor Oscar Leeser told the Dallas Morning News.
Asked at a White House press briefing, “How is this not a crisis?” DHS Secretary Mayorkas rejected the term. “I have explained that quite clearly. We are challenged at the border.” The administration’s political opponents, though, have accelerated messaging to portray the border situation as a crisis.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, facing criticism of his decision to lift all COVID-19 public health measures, repeatedly alleged that the Biden administration is “importing COVID” by allowing some asylum-seeking migrants to enter the country. In Brownsville, 108 migrants released by Border Patrol have tested positive for the virus—6.3 percent of those tested. This does not include those admitted from the “Remain in Mexico” program, who must test negative before crossing the border. Nor is it clear how this positivity rate might compare to that of the untested tens of thousands of people who cross the border into Texas legally every day. Most released migrants in the Rio Grande Valley end up at the local Catholic Charities respite center, which refers those who test positive to area hotels to quarantine.
Meanwhile, CNN reports that Abbott has yet to approve a DHS offer of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to help test released migrants for the virus. “Based on the numbers I’ve seen, the percentages of migrants who have COVID are very low,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, told the Dallas Morning News. “The governor of Texas knows that this kind of xenophobia, racism, and hate fuel hate crime.”
Still, ex-president Donald Trump used his February 28 speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to allege that Biden is seeking “to cancel border security.” And a visit to the foxnews.com “Immigration” pageshows the network flooding the zone with an average of two stories per hour promoting the “border crisis” narrative.
We’re still awaiting CBP’s release of February numbers to see to what extent migration increased over the last few months of the Trump administration, when Border Patrol’s migrant encounters were already exceeding a very high 70,000 per month. Again, the vast majority continue to be expelled within hours under pandemic measures while the Biden administration slowly builds capacity to process them.
Links
  • President Biden met virtually with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on March 1. The presidents committed—with no public discussion of specifics—“to immigration policies that recognize the dignity of migrants and the imperative of orderly, safe, and regular migration,” and “to collaborate on a joint effort to address the root causes of regional migration, to improve migration management, and to develop legal pathways for migration.” President López Obrador reportedly proposed the reinstatement of a guest-worker arrangement like the old Bracero program that ran until the 1960s. That, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, would require Congress to pass legislation.
  • Migrant smugglers crammed 44 people into two SUVs on March 2 and drove them through a gap where an entire panel of late 2000s-era border fence had been removed, probably with a high-powered saw. One of the vehicles burst into flames shortly afterward, and all 19 aboard survived. Another SUV, carrying 25 passengers, collidedwith a semi truck on a southeast California highway. Thirteen of those aboard died.
  • A coalition of nearly 70 organizations, including WOLA, sent a report (not yet public) to Biden administration officials specifying priority sections of the Trump administration’s border wall that need to be removed, chiefly for environmental reasons.
  • Democratic leadership says that the House of Representatives will take up two immigration bills next week: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and the American Dream and Promise Act.
  • “CBP has deployed about 28 percent of the surveillance and subterranean technology solutions planned, even after receiving more than $700 million in funding since fiscal year 2017,” according to a report from the DHS Inspector General.
  • Children and parents brought back together by the Biden administration’s new family reunification task force might have the option to remain in the United States, said Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, who said he’d “explore legal pathways” to making that happen.
  • Former Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions, the architect of the “zero tolerance” policy that led to thousands of family separations in 2017 and 2018, voiced mild regret in an interview with Reuters, though he mainly placed the blame beyond the Justice Department: “It was unfortunate, very unfortunate, that somehow the government was not able to manage those children in a way that they could be reunited properly. It turned out to be more of a problem than I think any of us imagined it would be.”
  • The Dominican Republic, whose CESFRONT border security force has received past U.S. assistance, including CBP training, has announced plans to build a fence along its entire 236-mile border with Haiti. Meanwhile, internal DHS communications revealed by BuzzFeed indicate that U.S. officials recognize that they are expelling Haitian migrants to potential danger, as ICE planes return them during a period of unusually severe political instability.
5 links from the past week
  • In the New Yorker, Francisco Goldman makes the case for the Biden administration to push hard for Guatemala to protect and expand its anti-corruption prosecutors, performing the role filled by the late lamented CICIG, which “gave Guatemalans a sense of what is possible.”
  • In a well documented threepart seriesExpediente Público explains how the Ortega regime methodically went about politicizing, corrupting, buying off, and gaining control over Nicaragua’s military, which has played a key supporting role in waves of repression since 2018.
  • multimedia series published on March 1 by El Espectador, “The Battle to Substitute Coca,” tells the story of post-peace accord eradication and crop substitution from the perspective of San José del Fragua, a municipality in Caquetá. It thoroughly explores the complexities surrounding the increasingly frustrating experience of the peace accords’ neglected crop substitution program.
  • Also on coca in Colombia: Longtime drug policy scholar Juan Carlos Garzón of the Fundación Ideas para la Paz published a detailed paper that he had written in 2020 to inform the work of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission. (English here.) “The image of a plane spraying hectares of coca is useful to show that the state is acting rigorously and promptly, but it clearly falls short if the goal is to create fundamental change,” Garzón writes. “The benefits of this tool are limited to the very short term, while the costs in terms of state legitimacy and the relationship with local communities last a very long time.”
  • The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s latest annual Social Panorama of Latin America report presents gut-wrenching data illustrating the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 across the region—which came after several years of depressed commodity prices. Poverty rates are up to levels not seen since 2008. Extreme poverty rates are at levels not seen since 2000. All the gains of the region’s 2000s-early 2010s economic boom have been given back, at least for now.
Latin America-related online events this week
Monday, March 8
Tuesday, March 9
  • 1:30-3:00 at LSESU Colombian Society: Prospects for the Peace Agreement in times of the Covid-19 pandemic (RSVP required).
  • 2:00-3:00 at thedialogue.org: What Will It Take to Salvage Cuba’s Economy? (RSVP required).
Wednesday, March 10
Thursday, March 11
Friday, March 12
  • 11:00 at atlanticcouncil.org: International trade and Mercosur on its 30th anniversary: A foreign minister conversation (RSVP required).
Some tweets that made me laugh last week
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