US expands list of ‘corrupt’ officials in Central America

The Biden administration is greatly expanding the list of Central American officials deemed too corrupt to work with or be allowed to enter the United States.

The list, first developed last year at the behest of Congress, will make it difficult for some Central American governments to do business in Washington and complicate Washington’s efforts to combat illegal immigration from the so-called Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. because many potential partners will be disqualified.

People on the list are denied visas to the US, barred from entering the US, and deemed to be denied access to US businesses and most government programs.

“Those targeted include former and current senior government officials who have damaged democracy in their country, further destabilized their communities, and prioritized personal gain over the public good,” said the Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), one of the original architects of the Engel List, named after a former member of the House of Representatives. Eliot Engel, New York Democrat and frequent international human rights advocate.

Torres added that the blacklisted officials “will finally face the consequences” for their “anti-democratic corrupt practices.”

The State Department announced the release of the expanded list on Wednesday evening. In a statement, Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken accused those named of “undermining democratic processes and institutions” which ultimately contributes to “illegal migration and the destabilization of society.”

The State Department did not immediately detail the names on the list, but said there were 60 more people on the list, double the original 50 named last year.

However, people familiar with the list said it included several senior members of the administration of Salvadoran President Nayiba Bukele and a number of wealthy businessmen linked to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.

The list will also include at least one adviser to the new president of Honduras, Xiomar Castro. Earlier this year, Castro replaced President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has since extradited to the USA in connection with a major drug dealing case, and Biden administration officials hoped that the new president would head a less corrupt government.

All three presidents turned down Biden’s invitation to attend last month’s conference. America Summit, a major regional gathering hosted by the United States for the first time in three decades in Los Angeles. These presidents, along with fellow Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who failed to appear, protested Biden’s refusal to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to the summit.

The list was released last year when Biden put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of efforts to crack down on illegal immigration from Central America. Her strategy was to tackle the “root causes“About the poverty, violence and corruption that drive Central Americans from their homes.

But almost immediately she found herself looking for partners because the region’s presidents were seen as unbearably corrupt or anti-democratic.

Harris attended Castro’s inauguration, but hopes for cooperation from the Honduran government may be fading.

The updated list also added officials from Nicaragua, which is not considered one of the Central American countries with the most people fleeing to the US, but is considered a host country for an increasingly corrupt and brutal government. Numerous members of the government autocratically ruled by President Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice President Rosario Murillo, as well as many of their relatives and associates, have already been subject to economic sanctions from Washington. Engel’s listing is an extra layer of punishment.

Ortega imprisoned or exiled several hundred dissidents and political opponents. Several Nicaraguan judges will also be included in the new blacklist.

After his election, Bukele took a decidedly autocratic stance, sacking the judges and the attorney general and orchestrating his party’s takeover of the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly. El Faro, a Salvadoran news agency highly respected in the region and regularly attacked by Bukele, reported that government finance minister Alejandro Celaya was included in the updated list despite his efforts to renegotiate the terms of El Salvador’s external debt to the International Monetary Fund. , based in Washington, where Zelaya will no longer be able to travel.

There were no official comments from any of the sanctioned officials, with the exception of Bukele Cristian Guevara, head of the New Ideas legislative delegation, who told Salvadoran newspapers that his U.S. visa had been revoked, but he was proud of the fact that was sanctioned for committing a crime. what he thought was right for his country.