Senior officials named in a US government list of corruption suspects in Central America have all been sentenced for their crimes — a fact critics say raises concerns of leniency towards misbehaving elites in the region.
The list, released last week, was intended to provide Congress with the identities of high-level state actors in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador “known to have committed or facilitated acts of grand corruption or narcotics trafficking.” However, the State Department chose only to name individuals who had already been convicted of the above-mentioned crimes.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime
In July 2018, Congress demanded that the US Secretary of State, in coordination with the Defense Department, provide the report.
The list, which omits high-level officials currently suspected of crimes but not yet convicted, was heavily criticized by US Congresswoman Norma Torres who originally asked for the report. She said in a statement that “the United States government has knowledge of many, many corrupt officials in Central America who were not included in the report.”
Torres, the only Central American representative in Congress, has vowed to pressure the State Department into releasing more names.
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By naming only officials already convicted of their crimes, the State Department’s report lets Northern Triangle governments off the hook at a time when all three have current administrations linked to alleged corruption and drug trafficking.
In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales is currently being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) on suspicion of illicit campaign financing in the runup to the 2015 presidential election. Morales went to great lengths to oust the CICIG from Guatemala, a move widely criticized at home and internationally.
In 2015, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández confessed to using funds from supposed acts of corruption to help finance his bid to become president during the previous year. Hernández was re-elected in November 2017, despite allegations of voter fraud.
In addition the President’s brother, Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado, was arrested in Miami on drug trafficking charges. Tony Hernández, as he is better known, is the latest in a string of Honduran officials close to the country’s president who have been accused by US prosecutors of drug trafficking.
The list includes two of El Salvador’s former presidents — Antonio Saca and Mauricio Funes — who have both been convicted on charges of money laundering and embezzlement. But the same list fails to name anyone in El Salvador’s outgoing ruling party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN), though a chief member is allegedly a person of interest in an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The United States’ recent efforts to tackle corruption in the region have primarily focused on withdrawing visas from lower-level functionaries with links to irregular campaign financing and other illicit activities.
The report also comes shortly after the administration of US President Donald Trump announced the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid funding to the Northern Triangle — likely money which was used to fund anti-corruption programs, among numerous other development projects. Prior to eliminating funding, Trump had long criticized the three governments for not doing enough to stop caravans of migrants from reaching the US border. However, the alleged misconduct of the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala has received a muted response from the Trump administration.
The US appears to be in a precarious balancing act between two foreign policy priorities: curbing migration from Central America, and maintaining positive relations with key regional partners on drug trafficking issues.
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