The State Department on Thursday released a list of 55 Central American officials, former public servants, lawyers and business leaders who have engaged in corrupt or undemocratic acts and who will no longer be allowed to surrender. in the USA.
The list includes the former presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, as well as a handful of Salvadoran cabinet officials and more than a dozen sitting Honduran lawmakers.
“Overall this is a good solid start, I think the list sends a good message of the commitment and focus of the Biden administration to support anti-corruption efforts in the region,” said Adriana Beltrán, director of citizen security at WOLA, a hemispheric human rights organization. Tank.
The State Department’s broad designation comes as the Biden administration has taken its first steps to implement its strategy to address the root causes of regional migration.
In April, Vice President Harris presented the strategy, which is essentially a carrot and stick approach to tackling corruption in the region, widely seen as the underlying cause of much of the instability. which leads to emigration.
“These two topics are very closely linked in this part of the world because corruption and attacks on democracy are considered to be one of the most important root causes of irregular migration from Central America,” he said. State Department Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zúñiga. a call with reporters on Thursday.
“They hamper governance, they distort markets, they undermine development efforts, and ultimately they demoralize a population that decides to embark on a very dangerous irregular migration to Mexico and the United States because they do not believe to be able to build their future at home, “Zúñiga added.
Administration officials have warned that the “stick” side of the equation will focus on individualized sanctions targeting members of the region’s elites, in particular depriving corrupt actors and their families of visas and access to the system. American financier.
“Our actions under this authority do not exclude further sanctions, and in fact, a number of individuals on this list have been subject to other actions by the United States.” , Zúñiga said.
The behaviors that landed individuals on Thursday’s list are broad, ranging from embezzlement for personal gain, to undermining democratic institutions, to “allowing malicious Chinese influence” in the election, to receiving bribes from drug cartels and imprisoning political opponents.
Former Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom is on the list, accused of fraud and embezzlement in connection with an infrastructure deal in Guatemala City. Colom was arrested and then released by Guatemalan authorities in 2018 on charges related to this agreement.
Former Honduran president José Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa and his wife, former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, are also listed, the former first lady for corruption and embezzlement of public funds, and the former president for allegedly taking bribes from a drug cartel.
Five of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s advisers are also included, including Labor Minister Óscar Rolando Castro and Chief of Staff Martha Carolina Recinos de Bernal.
Notably, actors associated with all major political parties in El Salvador, including Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas party, were included in the list.
“This highlights that you are not talking about isolated cases, but about a systemic problem,” Beltrán said.
Two former Salvadoran officials have been listed in connection with their relations with China, in one case a former mayor accused of “abusing his authority as mayor in selling the island of Perico to agents of the Republic people of China in exchange for a personal benefit “.
“One thing is this normal economic competition that you have, and the other is actions that are corrupt, and that are in the name of an external actor who is looking to build influence in this way,” Zúñiga said.
The list of high-level Guatemalans now banned from traveling to the United States is fraught with officials and former officials who have obstructed the appointment of judges, a source of tension in Guatemala’s foreign relations, especially with the United States and the United States. ‘Europe.
And the Honduran roster is notable in that it includes more than a dozen serving members of the country’s legislature, many of whom are involved in efforts to divert money from government agencies and welfare programs. public.
The State Department’s list is also notable for those who are not on it.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose brother is serving a life sentence in the United States for drug trafficking, has himself been widely accused of participating in the drug trade, but is not on the list.
And some observers expected to see Sandra Torres, a former Guatemalan first lady, former presidential candidate and former wife of Colom, on the list.
Zúñiga said the list released on Thursday was not exhaustive and that further sanctions could follow for those included on that list or in any future list.
“This list is one of the many tools we have for accountability for corruption and undemocratic actions,” Zúñiga said. “It is not a definitive list either.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect number of people who would no longer be allowed to travel to the United States. There are 55 people on the list.