In December 2020, the US Congress passed HR 2615, better known as the Engel List. According to her, the president must present to Congress every six months a list of citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who have committed fraudulent acts.
Whether they affect state or private processes or agencies, or participate in serious acts of corruption or obstruct investigations. If it were strict, it would be a long list.
Like any initiative from the North, the so-called Northern Triangle Law of Reinforced Engagement arouses mixed feelings. Suspicious gestures with timid signs of hope.
But no one in the northern triangle of Central America believes this. Maybe a secondary element can go into the mix, as if to set an example. But only those who do not submit to Washington’s dictates are truly afraid of being included. This is not a common position among the corrupt. And Biden’s personal and political history does not allow us to expect anything else.
Those on the Engel list – in reference to New York Democratic representative and lawmaker Eliot Lance Engel – will be subject to penalties ranging from revoking their visas to being declared ineligible to acquire them. They will also not have any migratory benefits and, if found guilty by US courts, will not be eligible for parole.
Losing an American visa or not obtaining one implies, on the one hand, a certain loss of prestige in the eyes of their own companies. In contrast, for politicians, government officials, entrepreneurs or members of organized crime, it is an operational problem for their own businesses. Most of the ill-obtained money is in the north and there are many companies that they can do business with in connection with this laundering.
Difference from Magnitsky List
Few have called for a supposed overlap of goals with another list, the Magnitsky List, also created in the United States. But there is no such overlap, as this list focuses on officials who participated in what the United States considers human rights violations. The innovation of the Engel list is the expansion of target people.
The new law has 14 sections, ten of which establish the components and actions that the White House is to implement as key elements of its policy with respect to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Department of State will coordinate, with USAID and other federal agencies, the provision of Congressional committees and situation diagnostics, as well as progress reports on the implementation of the law. .
Principles of the law
Some sections include parameters for reporting human rights violations and abuses by security forces, extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests by members of the security forces or in complicity with them. It also contains specifications on the effectiveness of strategies implemented to fight corruption, financed by multilateral contributions.
But the most interesting aspect of the law is the inclusion of corruption and its impact on the migration of nationals. It is novel that this scourge is included as a cause of the migratory phenomenon, because until now, these causes were focused on poverty and violence as the only triggers.
Although corruption does not have a direct effect on migration, it is responsible for the deterioration of living conditions in much of society. Conditions marked by inadequate public services, prevailing impunity, internal displacement and the impossibility of social mobility, among other evils.
Obstacles to its implementation
The person chosen by the State Department to head the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the “diplomatic engagement”. A very common euphemism in Washington which should be understood as pressure at all costs. Or quite simply twist the arm of the local authorities to energize the actions of the strategy that the law determines.
But should this officer be able to deal with a Juan Orlando Hernandez who many infer is still looking for a way to stay in power, given what he’s supposed to be up against in the face of allegations of complicity with drug traffickers? Will he be able to face an arrogant, authoritarian and self-centered Nayib Bukele, whose actions are not much different from the robberies of his ruling predecessors? Will he be able to do something about Alejandro Giammattei, another link in the chain that has historically benefited the state-entrenched gangster mafias?
This employee will not be able to count on the judiciary, the prosecution or other powers of the State to carry out his work. All of them are mistaken for the mafias and, in some cases, participate in corruption. Therefore, it will depend on how much pressure the White House is prepared to put on governments in the region.
Conditions of monetary allocations
The law also sets out the conditions for the disbursement of funds allocated to strategies for the region. These conditions refer to the impositions – never met – stipulated by the Alliance for the Prosperity of the Obama administration.
The conditions include aspects such as combating drug trafficking and trafficking in human beings, informing citizens about the dangers of irregular migration, ensuring that the security forces respect human rights and that perpetrators of human rights violations are prosecuted.
We could go on, but the above is enough to understand the impossibility of imposing these conditions on the elites of these three super countries immersed in a system of hegemonic power, unpunished, immune and armored from all angles and on all sides.
Therefore, the effectiveness of Engel’s List will be determined by the political will of the United States government, which will undoubtedly prioritize its own interests over any situation in the Northern Triangle. Corruption and human rights abuses won’t matter if they hamper Washington’s short-term or long-term goals.
* Translation from Spanish by Maria Isabel Santos Lima
www.latinoamerica21.com, a pluralist media engaged in the dissemination of critical and true information about Latin America.
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