Dec 30, 2012

Latin America "long reads" from 2012

December 30, 2012

Source: Just the Facts

Here is a collection of “long-read” articles especially noteworthy in 2012. In addition to being engrossing reading, these all met the following criteria.

  • They are about Latin America and the Caribbean, and usually about security.
  • They are at least 3,000 words, thus qualifying them as “long reads” – often requiring more than one sitting to finish them, but not book length.
  • They are written in a clear, journalistic style – not academic prose.
  • As of today, all are available for free online.
  • They are written by authors other than staff of the three organizations that make up the “Just the Facts” project (CIP, LAWG and WOLA). Our organizations’ 2012 “long reads” are listed separately at the end of this post.

– Adam Isacson, WOLA

January 2012, Colombia: “Las FARC: La guerra que el país no quiere ver (Starts on page 36)”
Ariel Ávila
Arcanos (Corporación Nuevo Arco Iris, Colombia)
A look at how the FARC have adapted to the Colombian government’s 10-year-long offensive, arguing that they still remain “lethal to the Armed Forces and the civilian population.”

January 2012, Colombia: “Fighting the Last War ”
Elizabeth Dickinson
The Washington Monthly
“As president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe triumphed over a fierce narco-insurgency. Then the U.S. helped to export his strategy to Mexico and throughout Latin America. Here’s why it’s not working.”

January 12, 2012, Guatemala: “Breaking the wave: critical steps in the fight against crime in Guatemala
Ivan Briscoe, Marlies Stappers
Clingendael Institute (Netherlands), Impunity Watch
A thorough review and diagnosis of Guatemala’s halting efforts to reform its public security and judicial institutions, including the work of CICIG, the UN anti-impunity body.

January 13, 2012, Ecuador: “Reversal of Fortune
Patrick Radden Keefe
The New Yorker
A somewhat critical profile of Steven Donziger, the lead U.S. lawyer in a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against oil giant Chevron brought by Ecuadorian communities affected by severe pollution.

January 25, 2012, Peru: “The Devastating Costs of the Amazon Gold Rush
Donovan Webster
A likely future zone of social conflict is Madre de Dios state in Peru’s Amazon basin, where a bonanza of uncontrolled gold mining is devastating the environment.

April 9, 2012, El Salvador: “12 preguntas urgentes acerca del pacto con las pandillas
El Faro (El Salvador)
The online publication that broke the story about a government-brokered pact between El Salvador’s principal gangs asks twelve questions about the secretive deal. Many remain unanswered months later, even as homicide rates plummet.

April 16, 2012, Brazil: “Special Report: Brazil’s “gringo” problem: its borders
Brian Winter
Reuters looks at Brazil’s changing approach to border security and international drug flows, which increasingly resembles the old-school, military-heavy, U.S. “drug war” model.

April 23, 2012, Mexico: “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle
David Barstow, Alejandra Xanic Von Bertrab, James C. McKinley
The New York Times
December 18, 2012, Mexico: “The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Used Payoffs to Get Its Way in Mexico
David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic Von Bertrab
The New York Times
A remarkable series on Wal-Mart’s shameless activities in Mexico: “Wal-Mart de Mexico was an aggressive and creative corrupter, offering large payoffs to get what the law otherwise prohibited.”

May 1, 2012, Colombia: ““We are Illegal, but not Illegitimate.” Modes of Policing in Medellin, Colombia
Aldo Civico
Political and Legal Anthropology Review
Medellín as an example of a place where organized crime isn’t filling the vacuums left by the government’s absence – it actually requires the government’s collusion in order to thrive.

May 1, 2012, Mexico: “The Deadliest Place in Mexico
Melissa Del Bosque
The Texas Observer
A visit to the Juárez valley, east of Ciudad Juárez, which has been devastated by violent competition between the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels.

May 21, 2012, Cuba: “The Yankee Comandante
David Grann
The New Yorker
A profile of William Morgan, an American who fought in Fidel Castro’s rebel army in the 1950s, only to be imprisoned and shot by a firing squad in 1961.

May 25, 2012, Guatemala: “Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala
Sebastian Rotella, Ana Arana
A man in Massachusetts finds out that, as a small boy, he survived Guatemala’s notorious Dos Erres massacre, from where he was abducted.

June 1, 2012, Mexico: “Cronica de la cartelizacion
Natalia Mendoza Rockwell
Nexos (Mexico)
A look at El Altar, Sonora, a staging area for drugs and migrants south of Arizona, where independent smugglers have fallen violently under the control of organized crime.

June 13, 2012, Mexico: “A Drug Family in the Winner’s Circle
Ginger Thompson
The New York Times
An investigation of how the Treviño family, part of the leadership of Mexico’s Zetas criminal organization, laundered money through horse-breeding in the United States. This episode, some speculate, may have fostered a violent split within the Zetas when the amount of money involved was revealed.

June 15, 2012, Mexico: “Cocaine Incorporated
Patrick Radden Keefe
The New York Times Magazine
An exploration of what we know about the Sinaloa cartel and how it operates, both in Mexico and the United States.

June 25, 2012, Mexico: “The Kingpins
William Finnegan
The New Yorker
“‘Heating up the plaza’ is the term of art for what’s happening in Guadalajara, mainly in the poor barrios and in the badlands on the outskirts.”

June 28, 2012, Mexico: “The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal
Katherine Eban
If you want to know what really went wrong with “Fast and Furious,” read this. “The ATF never intentionally allowed guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. How the world came to believe just the opposite is a tale of rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”

July 17, 2012, Peru: “Sendero Luminoso y el narcotrafico en el VRAE
Romina Mella
IDL Reporteros (Peru)
First of an eight-part series exploring who the “narcos” are in today’s Peru, which appears to be surpassing Colombia as the world’s largest cocaine producer.

July 17, 2012, Venezuela: “Tightening the Grip
Human Rights Watch
Documenting the erosion of judicial independence, limits on press freedom, and pressure on human rights defenders in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela.

July 30, 2012, Mexico: “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico
Catherine Daly, Kimberly Heinle, and David A. Shirk
Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego
The authors dig through the data about human rights complaints against Mexico’s military, which has been called to help fight crime, highlighting trends and calling for more determined action to bring abuses to justice.

August 1, 2012, Entire Region: “Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in the Americas: Major Trends in the Twenty-First Century
Bruce Bagley
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Taking the pulse of anti-drug policies, and their latest unintended consequences, throughout the hemisphere.

August 21, 2012, Colombia: “Impunity: Has implementation of the accusatory legal system been an effective response to the fight against impunity in Colombia?
U.S. Office on Colombia
A highly critical view of Colombia’s U.S.-aided shift to an oral, accusatorial justice system, contending that it has harmed “due process and access to justice, particularly for grave human rights violations.”

August 29, 2012, Venezuela: “Venezuela’s private media wither under Chavez assault
Monica Campbell
Committee To Protect Journalists
“The Chavez administration has used an array of legislation, threats, and regulatory measures to gradually break down Venezuela’s independent press while building up a state media empire.”

September 25, 2012, Colombia: “Colombia: Peace at Last?
International Crisis Group
A thorough overview of why moderate optimism about Colombia’s FARC peace talks is warranted, and what the main actors need to do.

September 30, 2012, Entire Region: “The Mafia’s Shadow in the Americas: Modern Slavery and Refugees, Animal Político (Mexico), Plaza Pública (Guatemala), El Faro (El Salvador), Verdad Abierta (Colombia)
A remarkable series about how organized crime groups are, for all intents and purposes, enslaving people throughout the region, whether through forced child recruits, sex trafficking, forced labor and other means.

October 9, 2012, Mexico: “Deadly crossing: Death toll rises among those desperate for the American Dream
Hannah Rappleye, Lisa Riordan Seville
NBC News
A report about the alarmingly sharp rise in deaths of migrants passing through rural south Texas.

October 11, 2012, Mexico: “El nuevo mapa del narcotrafico en Mexico
BBC Mundo
Animal Político
An overview of “who is who” in Mexico’s principal organized crime groups.

October 12, 2012, Honduras: “U.S. Rethinks a Drug War After Deaths in Honduras
Damien Cave and Ginger Thompson
The New York Times
A “series of fatal enforcement actions … quickly turned the antidrug cooperation, often promoted as a model of international teamwork, into a case study of what can go wrong.”

October 22, 2012, Chile: “El dominio del narco en las poblaciones más vulnerables de Santiago
Tabatha Guerra y Juan Pablo Figueroa
A surprising 83 urban neighborhoods in Chile are beset by gang violence. “Without basic services or police presence, they are at the mercy of small gangs of traffickers.”

October 25, 2012, Colombia: “Colombia: Letter to President Santos Criticizing the Expansion of Military Jurisdiction
Jose Miguel Vivanco
Human Rights Watch
Lays out the arguments against the Colombian government’s controversial weakening of its civilian court system’s ability to investigate and punish military human rights abuses. “Colombia’s military justice system is an example of impunity—not accountability—for atrocities.”

November 1, 2012, Mexico, Central America: “Transnational Crime in Mexico and Central America: its Evolution and Role in International Migration
Steven Dudley
Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars and Migration Policy Institute
“The rise of organized crime in Mexico and the Northern Triangle has dramatically increased the risks that migrants face as they attempt to cross the region.”

November 2, 2012, Brazil: “Rio: the fight for the favelas
Misha Glenny
The Financial Times (UK)
A balanced look at the present state of Rio de Janeiro’s ambitious “favela pacification program.”

November 14, 2012, Mexico: “Mexico: Risking Life for Truth
Alma Guillermoprieto
The New York Review Of Books
Mexican journalists facing threats – and worse – from organized crime, and getting no help from ineffective government institutions.

December 3, 2012, Colombia: “Delincuencia en Colombia: bandas desbandadas
Semana (Colombia)
A region-by-region overview of the new landscape of organized crime and narcotrafficking in Colombia, following the demobilization of paramilitaries and the takedowns of many successor groups’ leaders. A hint of what awaits Colombia even if talks with the FARC succeed.

December 3, 2012, Mexico: “La estrategia fallida
Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez
Nexos (Mexico)
The security specialist digs through Mexico’s crime statistics and finds four strategic errors committed by the Calderón government (2006-2012).

December 7, 2012, Mexico: “The New Border: Illegal Immigration’s Shifting Frontier
Sebastian Rotella
“Although Mexicans remain the largest group, U.S.-bound migrants today are increasingly likely to be young Central Americans fleeing violence as well as poverty, or migrants from remote locales such as India and Africa.”

December 11, 2012, Guatemala: “Los huesos que buscan su nombre
Sebastian Escalon
Plaza Pública (Guatemala)
Forensic anthropologists continue to uncover the horrors of Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, in order to provide evidence for the first prosecutions of military personnel.

December 14, 2012, Nicaragua: “Security in Nicaragua: Central America’s Exception?
Roberto Cajina
Inter-American Dialogue
A look at why Nicaragua has largely avoided the violent crime wave that has swept over northern Central America. The country’s police force is a big reason, but politicization and Caribbean narco activity pose big threats.

December 16, 2012, Mexico: “The Zetas and Monterrey
Steven Dudley
A 3-part series about the bloody battle for Mexico’s third-largest, and wealthiest, city. “How and why the Zetas settled in Monterrey goes a long way toward explaining who they are and how they operate.”

“Long reads” from Just the Facts project participant organizations

Center for International Policy:

Latin America Working Group Education Fund:

Washington Office on Latin America:


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