The Government of the United States pointed out this week for corruption to 60 officials, judges and former government officials from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. Nicaragua also appears for the first time on the ‘Engel List’, created in 2020 by virtue of a law promoted by then US Congressman Eliot Engel.
Last year’s list contained 55 names, this time it went up to 60. A reproachful message from the United States to Central America.
The call ‘Engel’s List it was expanded this Wednesday by citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, which Washington considers “corrupt and anti-democratic” actors in the region.
A tool that aims to work for respect for democracies in Central America
In a statement that accompanied the publication of this list, the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, accused these individuals of “significant corruption”, as well as obstruction of investigations in this regard. Blinken affirmed in his note that the “citizens of Central America deserve and expect governments that respect their human rights, comply with the law and create the conditions for individuals and communities to flourish.”
The people of Central America deserve the opportunity to create a more democratic, prosperous, and safe region. Today, with the release of the 2022 list of those who undermine democracy or engage in corruption, we support those building a brighter future. https://t.co/SwPQTATQnn
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) July 20, 2022
The named individuals will have any US visas revoked and will be denied entry to the United States. So the list – which the State Department is required by law to publish annually – will make it difficult for some Central American governments to do business in Washington.
But one of the main objectives of the United States with that list is to fight against illegal immigration from Central America. Indeed, US officials see corruption in the region as one of the root causes of the unprecedented flow of migrants seen across the US-Mexico border. Antony Blinken emphasized, in fact, that the people mentioned contribute to “irregular migration and the destabilization of societies.”
Appearing on that list also comes with the threat of possibly being prosecuted in the future in the United States, as happened to the former president of Honduras. Juan Orlando Hernández was included in the ‘Engel List’ in July 2021, although his name remained hidden until his departure from the presidency in January 2022. Extradited, the former president is being tried for drug trafficking.
An additional layer of punishment for Nicaragua
Unlike last year’s list, where no Nicaraguan appeared, the United States included 23 judges and prosecutors from this country this year. On the part of that country, it is considered that Nicaragua houses an increasingly corrupt government, and more so since Daniel Ortega won a fourth consecutive term in the November elections, after arresting all the opposition candidates before the elections.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, at the time described the elections as a farce, due to the systematic imprisonment of the president’s rivals, as well as his repression of critical media.
And this Wednesday, there are 23 Nicaraguan judges and prosecutors who appear on the ‘Engel List’ for their alleged complicity in the imprisonment and persecution of opposition figures. It represents one more step in the disapproval of the United States towards the Ortega government, of which many members have already been subject to economic sanctions by Washington.
The “interference” and “manipulation” of the United States in the region
On the Honduran side, the ‘Lista Engel’ appoints, among 14 other officials, the Vice President of Congress, Rasel Antonio Tomé Flores. The newly appointed adviser to Xiomara Castro, Enrique Flores Lanza, is also mentioned. The official, who was also Minister of the Presidency from 2006 to 2009, would have, according to the State Department, participated “in a major corruption by receiving two million dollars of public money from the Central Bank of Honduras and improperly redistributing it to political allies.” .
In reaction, the Government of Honduras expressed this Wednesday “its categorical rejection” of the list, considering that it is a “politically motivated and interfering document”: “The nature and intention of this list denotes a permanent manipulation and an interventionist policy that many times in the past he ignored the reasons he now invokes,” the Honduran Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
For his part, the accused himself, Enrique Flores Lanza, defended himself in the local newspaper La Prensa: “That list is still riddled with errors. It is necessary to review the people who leave and the dates that they indicate that they were in the Government. I believe that the lack quality of that list, strictly speaking, speaks for itself”.
Other prominent Hondurans named include former Health Minister Javier Rodolfo Pastor Vásquez; and the former director of the National Police Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla Valladares. The latter was extradited on May 10 to the United States, where he faces trial for drug trafficking.
A setback in diplomatic advances between the US and Honduras
The US Vice President, Kamala Harris, attended the inauguration of the current President of Honduras, Xiomara Castro. But with the inclusion of people close to Castro, a diplomatic fissure could be generated and hopes of cooperation between the two nations fade.
Unlike the sanctions against El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, for Guatemala no person from the circle of power is named. Rather, the list seems to focus on the names of officials who have helped dismantle the judicial body’s institutionality.
Thus, among the 16 Guatemalans named, are a former Minister of Communications, several judges of the Supreme Court of Justice and the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity of the Public Ministry, Rafael Curruchiche. The latter was appointed by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who was also on the 2021 ‘Engel List’.
El Salvador, the good student of the fight against corruption according to the United States?
Finally, the country that is least noted on that list, with six nationals mentioned, is El Salvador. However, there are three high-ranking officials from the government of President Nayib Bukele, as well as the head of the legislative coalition and his close ally, Christian Reynaldo Guevara Guardón.
With the mention of Guevara, the United States seems to want to punish attacks on freedom of expression in El Salvador. In effect, the legislator was the one who promoted and approved the Maras Prohibition Law, which penalizes the dissemination of messages related to gangs.
Guevara scoffed at the announcement, telling Salvadoran newspapers that his US visa had been cancelled, but that he was proud to have been sanctioned for doing what he felt was right for his country.
After publishing the update to the ‘Engel List’, the Secretary of State concluded that “the United States will continue to collaborate with officials and organizations that show dedication to fighting corruption and strengthening democratic government.”
With Reuters, EFE, AFP and local media