Sunday, January 29

Fight against corruption in Central America: What happened in 2021?

United States President Joe Biden, radiographed the Northern Triangle of Central America and the problems that confronts its population with devastating phrases when he spoke before the plenary session of Congress in his 100-day-term speech.

Why are people leaving Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador? “, he wondered and very quickly replied: “It is because of violence, corruption, gangs and political instability.”

This is how he propped up the priority lines of his management for Central America. Since then, his government has made it clear that the fight against corruption is a core part of its policy towards the region.

At the same time, On the table was the promise that his policy would bring fruits in the medium term, including having more transparent societies and governments, and therefore, more democratic and generators of prosperity.

However, at the end of 2021, from Central America and the United States, some experts consulted are not optimistic about the results.

Manfredo Marroquín, member of Acción Ciudadana in Guatemala, An organization that emerged in 1996 and that ensures peace and transparency in public affairs, considers that the situation has worsened despite Washington’s efforts to reverse the existing problems.

What indicators point to setbacks?

In a review of what has happened in the region, There are several actions that from the governments of the moment have marked setbacks in the fight against corruption, the analysts maintain.

They point from the dismantling of special and supranational Commissions dedicated to investigating corruption in those countries, until the increasing control exercised by governments to restrict judicial independence and control tax departments with investigative initiatives on the problem.

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador

Guatemala took the first step in August 2019, by dismantling the International Commission against Impunity in that nation (CICIG) that investigated government officials and networks at high levels of the private sector. The measure came after 12 years of the mission’s mandate and it had reached high-level structures in the country.

The CICIG said goodbye to the Central American country with a forceful report that characterized the situation just before the arrival of the new government of Alejandro Giammattei, January 2020. “Guatemala: a captured state” was the title of the report that indicated the level of penetration in the structures the status of organized crime groups.

Honduras gave the coup de grace to the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) in January 2020, with the refusal of the government of Juan Orlando Hernández to continue with the agreement that began in 2016 with the Organization of American States (OAS).

And in June of this year he did government of President Nayib Bukele, al romper the agreement with the OAS for the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). The CICIES was just starting proceedings against public officials on that same date.

From El Salvador, analyst Roberto Rubio, from the National Foundation for Development (FUNDE) and Transparency International chapter El Salvador, sees the situation in his country in perspective.

“The thing has gone the other way, corruption has been used to attack enemies, Paradoxically, the excuse of corruption is used from those of us who demand transparency, ”Rubio told the Voice of America.

He cites -for example- the dismantling of the structures that were beginning to function.

What to expect in the Northern Triangle by 2022?

The general election of Honduras on November 28, which gave the victory to Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, it opens up a small space of trust in the region, analysts suggest.

Above all, because her campaign flag and announced commitments as president-elect include the fight against corruption, and has promised as a priority the reinstallation of a commission to tackle corruption.

“I want to say it from the bottom of my heart and that the Honduran people feel that the war was, out of hatred, out of corruption, out of drug trafficking and organized crime“Castro said in his first words to the country as president-elect.

In Washington, experts and officials from the Biden government see the process started in Honduras as an opportunity. ACstro de Zelaya will assume the presidency on January 27. The Biden administration has said that it is ready to work and address the core problems of the Central American country as its main strategic partner in the region.

It is a worrying situation that is being observed in various parts of Central America, in El Salvador there are problems with the issue of corruption, also in Guatemala and until recently there was that concern in Honduras ”, he told the FLY Spanish State Department spokeswoman Kristia Rosales in recent days.

“These are issues that we are dealing with and analyzing,” he said.

According to Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, in Washington there is a bipartisan consensus on the problems of corruption and lack of transparency in the Northern Triangle, although both banks approach it with different nuances based on their political calculations from the US capital.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, for example, considers that the United States should not invest in the region until a mechanism is founds certain to tackle corruption.

How do Central American governments defend themselves?

Central American governments have responded to the signals that came from the United States with both the Engel List of September, which pointed to officials linked to acts of corruption in the Northern Triangle, like the recent appointments under the Magnitsky Act.

President Alejandro Giammattei of Guatemala has defended the attorney general, Consuelo Porras, indicated by the United States of being behind networks within the government and the judicial system in acts of corruption. The president has said that the United States’ accusations are a “lack of respect for international relations.”

In El Salvador, President Bukele, having more than a dozen of his officials and collaborators appointed both in the Engel List as with the Magnitsky Law it has attacked the United States head-on.

Has said Bukele is about “pure politics and interference of the lowest”, With what continues to cool more and more relations and sharpen the distance with the main strategic partner of the Central American country.

Voice of America (VOA)

The entry Fight against corruption in Central America: What happened in 2021? It was first published in – Financial News of Panama.