Sunday 19 September 2021

US publishes list of corrupt officials from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras

In total, 55 people from the three countries were included in the so-called Engel List

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Q24N – The United States released this Thursday the names of more than 50 officials and former officials from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, whom it considered “corrupt and undemocratic actors” and prohibited them from entering the country.

Carolina Recinos, Nayib Bukele’s chief of staff, is on the list compiled by the US State Department. Photo: La Prensa Gráfica

The government of Joe Biden attributes to corruption in the so-called Central American Northern Triangle much of the conditions that motivate irregular migration to the southern border, which in recent months has registered record numbers.

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“Today we take another step in the fight against corruption in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by announcing visa restrictions for corrupt and undemocratic actors,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.

“Corruption undermines democracy and public trust. Better governance means a better future, ”she added.

The so-called Engel List was delivered to Congress in compliance with a law last December, sponsored by then-legislator Eliot Engel, which gave the State Department 180 days to identify those in those three Central American countries who were involved in corruption, obstructing justice or undermine democracy.

“We point to cases where we have clear information,” Ricardo Zúñiga, Biden’s special envoy for the Northern Triangle, explained to journalists, underlining that “the fight against corruption is an important objective for the national security of the United States.”

“We do not exclude applying other measures if they are pertinent,” he added, referring to eventual economic sanctions.

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Former presidents and current ministers, legislators and judges were included in the list, which includes 21 citizens from Honduras, 20 from Guatemala and 14 from El Salvador.

Lobo vs. Hernandez

The former presidents of Guatemala Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), singled out for anomalies in a public transport contract; and from Honduras, Porfirio Pepe Lobo (2010-2014), accused of receiving bribes from the drug trafficking group Los Cachiros, are among the most prominent figures.

Lobo harshly questioned the legitimacy of the list, targeting the current Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, who has been implicated in a court in New York for cocaine trafficking to the United States along with his brother Juan Antonio Tony Hernández, sentenced in March to a chain perpetual by American justice.

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What do we all know? That the greatest corrupt person in Honduras and that there has been in the history of this country is called Juan Orlando Hernández and he is not on the list. What legitimacy can that list have? ”Lobo told Radio América.

“Let them publish what they want, I know that I have not received money for favors (…) It is totally false,” he assured.

The ousted former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya criticized Washington’s “new” diplomacy. “He does not touch a rose petal to his ally JOH,” he tweeted.

In addition to the former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, about fifteen members of the unicameral National Congress of Honduras make up the list.

Close to Bukele

Several of the names released Thursday by the State Department had already been included in the reduced list released in May, which was purged and expanded.

From El Salvador, people close to President Nayib Bukele stand out: his chief of staff, Carolina Recinos, and the Minister of Labor, Rolando Castro. There are also the former ministers of Security Rogelio Rivas and of Agriculture, Pablo Anliker Infante.

The current Supreme Electoral Court magistrate, Luis Guillermo Wellman Carpio, also appears, accused of tabulating results “for his personal benefit” and “allowing the evil influence of the Chinese during the Salvadoran elections.”

There are also two prominent members of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which ruled El Salvador until 2019: José Luis Merino and Sigfrido Reyes.

Guatemalan magistrates

Two judges stand out from Guatemala. One of them is Nester Vásquez, recently sworn in as a magistrate of the Constitutional Court, which is above the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and is essential to settle political and constitutional cases. The other is Manuel Duarte Barrera, a member of the CSJ.

Ricardo Méndez Ruiz and Raúl Falla, from the Foundation Against Terrorism, an entity that has been in charge of criminally prosecuting and promoting a smear campaign against the head of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity (Feci), Juan Francisco Sandoval, were also identified.

The Feci was created when the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) was operating, a United Nations entity that dismantled a structure in 2015 dedicated to evading taxes and caused the resignation of the then president, Otto Pérez, and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, both in prison and awaiting trial.

Other Guatemalans who stand out are legislators Boris Roberto España Cáceres and Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, former first secretary of Congress, as well as Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, former head of Colom’s cabinet; and Mario Amílcar Estrada Orellana, former legislator and presidential candidate in 2019, sentenced in 2020 in the United States to 15 years in prison for drug trafficking.

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