On July 1, the US government released the first Engel list, which singled out 55 current or former officials from so-called Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador (14), Honduras (21) and Guatemala (20) – for acts ” significant corruption ”or obstruction of justice, which undermines democracy.
However, among those included – who will be sanctioned, among other measures, by the immediate cancellation of their visas and the freezing of their assets in the United States – there are no figures as obvious as the presidents of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, or Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández.
The purpose of the Biden administration
The Biden administration, which inaugurates the list created by a congressional law passed in 2020, attributes to corruption in the North Triangle of Central America a large part of the conditions which motivate irregular migration to the United States and which for some recent years. years cause humanitarian crises. .recurrent. Corruption “undermines democracy and public confidence,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Better governance means a better future ”.
In all three countries, there has been praise and criticism of this first list, which must be updated every six months. On the one hand, it is seen as a first step to start “cleaning up”, something that should not require the help of a foreign country, which highlights the impunity and complicity of the system. judiciary in the three countries. But, on the other hand, it has been criticized for leaving out countless well-known corrupt individuals.
Washington’s fear of losing influence
The omission of senior Honduran officials from the list is, according to lawyer and political scientist Raúl Pineda, speaking to the daily El Libertador, due to Washington’s fear of losing its influence in the region. According to Pineda, the most important thing for the United States is to maintain relations with the last two countries which are still loyal to them: Honduras and Guatemala, even if it means supporting impunity.
The list does not include senior officials close to President Juan Orlando Hernández, or people in business, Catholic and Evangelical churches, the military, or NGOs, although the State Department has announced the inclusion of people related to these sectors. In fact, not a single person from the president’s entourage is included, despite numerous charges brought against some of them, and against Hernández himself, for drug trafficking, a crime for which his own brother is. tried in the United States.
Absences in Guatemala
In Guatemala, absences are also notorious. There are two types of participation in corruption structures: those who accept bribes and high-level entrepreneurs who pay bribes. Of these, none were included in the list. Large companies accused of corruption include Claro and Tigo, as well as Aceros de Guatemala. No one has taken action against them and their partners. The companies simply changed their legal representative and moved on.
The Engel list in Guatemala also includes Congressman Boris Roberto España Cáceres, the former first secretary of the National Congress, Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, the former chief of staff of President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cámbara and former presidential candidate Mario Amílcar Estrada, who was sentenced by a New York court to 15 years in prison.
But the most prominent figures are Nester Vásquez, recently sworn in as a magistrate of the Constitutional Court, an institution that sits above the Supreme Court of Justice and plays a key role in resolving constitutional and political issues, and Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, a member of the controversial Foundation Against Terrorism, who the list says is accused of “obstructing criminal proceedings against former military officials who committed acts of violence, harassment or intimidation against those who investigated acts of corruption in government and non-government sectors ”.
The case of El Salvador
In El Salvador, unlike the first two countries, the list, although it obviously does not include the president despite his outrages against democracy, includes his entourage. One of the most relevant cases is that of the chief of staff, Carolina Recinos, for having committed “significant corruption by embezzling public funds for profit” and for having participated in a money laundering scheme.
Another of those cited by Bukele’s entourage is his current legal adviser, Conan Castro, for undermining “democratic processes or institutions collaborating in the inadequate dismissal of five Supreme Court judges and the attorney general”. While the current deputy minister of security and director of penitentiary centers, Osiris Luna, is accused of “significant acts of corruption linked to public contracts and bribes”.
The Salvadoran list, the shortest of the three, also includes current Supreme Electoral Court magistrate Luis Wellman, accused of altering the results “to his personal advantage” and “allowing Chinese influence in the event. Salvadoran elections “. These accusations show that the White House intends to surround – without suffocating – President Bukele, the only “rebel” of the three leaders of the North Triangle, and that he uses any situation, however ridiculous it may appear, to promote his own interests. geopolitics. .
In summary, the main aspect to highlight in the Engel list is the glaring omissions in all three countries, especially in the cases of Guatemala and Honduras. We’ll have to wait for the second list in six months to see if the Biden administration is serious about fighting corruption and defending democracy, or if it will continue to use the list as a tool to condition possible insubordination.
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