100 episodes

News and analysis of politics, security, development and U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, from the Washington Office on Latin America.

Latin America Today aisacson@wola.org

    • News
    • 4.8 • 40 Ratings

News and analysis of politics, security, development and U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, from the Washington Office on Latin America.

    A Groundbreaking ‘Win’ at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs

    A Groundbreaking ‘Win’ at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs

    On March 14-22, 2024, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) held its 67th annual session in Vienna, Austria. The session saw a landmark vote that may have important repercussions for drug policy, in Latin America and elsewhere.
    The commission approved a U.S.-led resolution encouraging countries to implement “harm reduction” measures to respond to drug overdoses and to protect public health.
    The vote marks a major breakthrough in civil society’s decades-long advocacy to center harm reduction, especially since the U.S. government has a history of blocking all such resolutions, and since the Commission has a longstanding tradition of enactment by a “Vienna Consensus” without votes.
    This episode features three guests who helped lead civil society’s robust participation at the CND:
    Ann Fordham, executive director of International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
    Lisa Sanchez, executive director of México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD)
    John Walsh, director for drug policy and the Andes at WOLA
    The three experts underscore that while the vote on this resolution was a major win in the civil society-led harm reduction fight, it is just one milestone along a longer journey. The fight must continue to ensure this sets the foundation for an international drug policy that truly prioritizes protecting people, views drug addiction as a public health and not a national security issue, and moves away from the normative framework of achieving a “drug free society” through punitive measures and prohibition.
    “The prohibition regime has tried to make itself inevitable and ‘forever,’ and that’s not the case… There's no reason to think that it needs to last forever. In fact, as we said, it was a misfit from the very beginning,” says John Walsh. “Drug use has always existed, it always will. To suggest that we're going to create a ‘drug-free world’ is not only futile, but it's downright dangerous because of its consequences… I think this is an opening to think more broadly about not just the UN drug policy space, but what governments need to do for the health, safety, and well-being of their populations.”

    • 53 min
    Flooding the Zone: the "Bukele Model,” Security and Democracy in El Salvador

    Flooding the Zone: the "Bukele Model,” Security and Democracy in El Salvador

    El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele just won re-election by a broad margin as a massive security crackdown has reduced gangs’ role in everyday life. But the increasingly authoritarian “Bukele model” has a big long-term downside, Douglas Farah explains.
    It has been almost a month since Nayib Bukele was reelected as President of El Salvador by a very wide margin, despite a constitutional prohibition on re-election. While security gains and a constant communications blitz have made Bukele popular, our guest, Douglas Farah of IBI Consultants, highlights some grave concerns about the “Bukele Model” and where it is headed.
    Among these: pursuit of an “authoritarian playbook” common to many 21st-century political movements, with eroding checks and balances; vastly weakened transparency over government activities; a complicated relationship with gangs and their integration into the political structure; an unsustainable reliance on mass incarceration; and erosion of the independence and professionalism of the police, military, and judiciary.
    In this episode, Farah argues:
    The success of Bukele’s security model may not be as pronounced as is publicly accepted. The human rights cost is very high, with about 75,000 people arrested, far more than earlier estimates of gang membership.  Bukele’s model uses elements from the “authoritarian playbook,” including undoing public access laws, eliminating accountability for government spending, consolidating media control, threatening independent media, and relying on armies of social media accounts and traditional media outlets to dominate the political conversation. Toleration of human rights abuse and corruption has undone a police reform that was a key element of the country’s 1992 peace accords. MS-13 is not defeated: its leaders avoid extradition while maintaining close relationships with authorities, while some of its affiliates serve as legislative “alternates.” The influence of China is real but probably overstated, as the country offers few resources and little overall strategic value. While it does not make strategic sense to criticize the popular president frontally, the Biden administration needs to be more consistent and less timid in its critique of specific policies and anti-democratic trends.
    Douglas Farah is President of IBI Consultants, a research consultancy that offers many of its products online. He was formerly bureau chief of United Press International in El Salvador, a staff correspondent for The Washington Post, and a senior visiting fellow at the National Defense University's Center for Strategic Research. He is a 1995 recipient of the Columbia Journalism School’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding coverage of Latin America.

    • 57 min
    Violence in Ecuador: Getting Beyond Stopgap Solutions

    Violence in Ecuador: Getting Beyond Stopgap Solutions

    A January outbreak of criminal violence in Ecuador made headlines worldwide. Now, a new government is cracking down in ways that recall other countries' "mano dura" policies, and the U.S. government stands ready to help. Is this the right way forward?
    While this isn’t the first time Ecuador’s government has declared a state of exception, the prominence of organized crime and the consequential rise in insecurity is a new reality for the country. Ecuador has seen a six-fold homicide rate increase in three years; it now South America’s worst, and Ecuadorians are the second nationality, behind Venezuelans, fleeing through the Darién Gap.
    How did this happen? How can Ecuador’s government, civil society, and the international community address it?
    This episode features International Crisis Group Fellow and author of the recent report Ecuador’s Descent Into Chaos, Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche, and John Walsh, WOLA’s director for drug policy and the Andes. The discussion covers how Ecuador suddenly reached such high levels of insecurity, the implications of President Daniel Noboa’s state of emergency and “state of internal armed conflict” declarations, an evaluation of international drug markets and state responses, and a look at U.S. policy.
    Gonzalez attributes the lead-up to Ecuador’s violent new reality to three factors:
    Ecuador’s gradual transition into a position of high importance in the international drug trade. The prison system crisis and the government’s incapacity to address it. The fragmentation of Ecuadorian criminal groups after the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC and the decline of Los Choneros, a criminal group with former hegemonic control. Gonzalez describes the state of emergency as “a band-aid solution to control the situation now, but not looking really to tackle these structural problems.”
    Walsh describes Ecuador’s case as a “wake up call” to the consequences of the drug war prohibitionist approach: “This isn’t just a drug policy question. This is a question about democracies delivering on the basic needs of their citizens, which is security. And I think prohibition in the drug war doesn’t support security. It tends to undermine it.” John calls on the international community to recognize this as a humanitarian issue as well, indicating that “people are basically held hostage. Not in their house, but in their whole community.”

    • 1 hr 2 min
    A New Chapter in Guatemala's Anti-Corruption Struggle

    A New Chapter in Guatemala's Anti-Corruption Struggle

    After relentless attempts to block his inauguration and a nine-hour delay, Bernardo Arévalo, who ran for Guatemala’s presidency on an anti-corruption platform, was sworn into office minutes after midnight on January 14.
    In this highly educational episode, WOLA Director for Central America Ana María Méndez Dardón is joined by WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt. Both were in Guatemala witnessing the high-tension event that was Arévalo’s inauguration. They cover the frustration, excitement, and symbolism that characterized the day, while also diving into a host of topics surrounding the state of Guatemala’s democracy.
    They assess the main threats to Arevalo’s leadership and the goals of his party, Movimiento Semilla, particularly those related to addressing corruption and impunity. Ana Maria and Jo-Marie touch on the distinct roles of Guatemalan indigenous communities, the United States, and the private sector. They describe the hope that Arevalo represents for the Guatemalan people in terms of security, justice, and the rule of law, while identifying the harsh realities of deeply embedded corruption a recalcitrant high court and attorney general.
    Read Ana María’s January 9 commentary, Ushering in a New Period: Bernardo Arévalo’s Opportunities and Challenges to Restoring Democracy in Guatemala, for a readable, in-depth analysis of these topics.

    • 55 min
    Understanding Regional Migration in an Election Year

    Understanding Regional Migration in an Election Year

    As congressional negotiations place asylum and other legal protection pathways at risk, and as we approach a 2024 election year with migration becoming a higher priority for voters in the United States, we found it important to discuss the current moment's complexities.
    WOLA’s vice president for Programs, Maureen Meyer, former director for WOLA’s Mexico Program and co-founder of WOLA’s migration and border work, is joined by Mexico Program Director Stephanie Brewer, whose work on defense of human rights and demilitarization in Mexico has focused often on the rights of migrants, including a visit to the Arizona-Sonora border at the end of 2023.
    This episode highlights some of the main migration trends and issues that we should all keep an eye on this year, including:
    Deterrence efforts will never reduce migration as long as the reasons people are fleeing remain unaddressed (the long-standing “root causes” approach). Such policies will only force people into more danger and fuel organized crime. “The question is not, are people going to migrate? The question is, where, how, and with who?”, explains Brewer. For this reason, maintaining consistent and reliable legal pathways is more important than ever, and the ongoing assaults on these pathways—including the right to seek asylum and humanitarian parole—are harmful and counterproductive. There can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for the variety of populations currently in movement, and the focus should no longer be on ineffective policies of deterrence and enforcement. “It's a long term game that certainly doesn't fit on a bumper sticker for political campaigns,” Meyer points out. Organized crime is a huge factor in regional migration—both as a driver of migration and as a facilitator. Official corruption and impunity enable these systems, a point that migration policies often fail to address. Brewer notes that during her trip to Arizona's southern border in December 2023, the vast majority of migrants she spoke to were Mexican, and among them, the vast majority cited violence and organized crime as the driving factor. In recent months, Mexican families have been the number one nationality coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. It is a regional issue, not just a U.S. issue, as people are seeking asylum and integration in many different countries. Mexico, for instance, received 140,000 asylum applications in 2023. This makes integration efforts extremely important: many people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border had attempted to resettle elsewhere first. “It's a twofold of the legal status itself, but then real integration efforts that are both economic and educational, but also addressing xenophobia and not creating resentment in local communities,” explains Meyer.

    • 53 min
    Taking Stock After a Tumultuous Year in the Americas: A Conversation with Carolina Jiménez Sandoval

    Taking Stock After a Tumultuous Year in the Americas: A Conversation with Carolina Jiménez Sandoval

    A conversation with WOLA's President, Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, about the year ahead. She discusses current challenges in the Americas within four areas that are orienting WOLA's current work: democracy, migration, climate, and gender and racial justice.

    • 50 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
40 Ratings

40 Ratings

Listening in Philly ,


This is the single best podcast being produced on immigration, drugs, and security policy in the Americas. It’s scrupulously researched and conveys a deep commitment to social justice.

CJI tech ,

Tremendously biased

This guy Is a flat out liar! Look up and investigate before sounding so ridiculously naive! Shame on you for promoting such a biased point of view!

Boabyhitthedeck ,

Michael Collins

Essential listening for anyone who wants to keep on top of regional developments and know more about US policy towards the region too.

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