Former presidents, current legislators and government ministers in Central America’s Northern Triangle region are among at least 55 people sanctioned today by the State Department for credible allegations of corruption.
Commonly known as the “Engel List” in honor of former U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the list is part of Democrats’ push to combat corruption, considered one of the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the largest source of irregular migration to the U.S.
The list was hotly anticipated since it was announced in late December, but ultimately fell short in the eyes of many in the region who were hoping the administration of U.S President Joe Biden would send a stronger message against corruption by including more politicians who have evaded justice in their home countries.
Initial reaction to the list centered more around who was not included than who was, including from the accused. “If Juan Orlando Hernández and part of his 40 ministers aren’t on that list, it doesn’t make any sense,” said former President of Honduras Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo in a radio interview, who along with his wife was included among 21 Hondurans on the list.
That sentiment was echoed across social media by Hondurans eager to see their president brought to justice. Both Lobo and Hernández, who are from the same political party, have been accused by U.S. federal prosecutors of conspiring with drug traffickers, including accepting millions in bribes, which they deny. In October 2019, President Hernández’s brother, former legislator Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was convicted of drug trafficking and related weapons charges in a New York court.
In Guatemala, where another former president, Alvaro Colom, was sanctioned for corruption related to an urban bus project, the thirst to see more current and recent top-level officials sanctioned was also palpable, with many questioning why President Alejandro Giammattei or his predecessor, Jimmy Morales, who kicked out the country’s highly successful anti-corruption commission, were not included.
Meanwhile, in El Salvador, where three of the past four presidents have been charged with corruption, current President Nayib Bukele, who has been compared to Donald Trump for his prolific use of social media, has been uncharacteristically quiet since the list was made public. Seven members of his government were included.
Aside from the list made public today, the White House had the option to sanction additional people in a classified manner. This could include some of the figures that locals across the region were hoping to see included, but who might not have been because of political considerations or ongoing investigations.
The people included on the Engel List will have their visas to travel to the U.S. revoked or become ineligible to apply. As such, the sanctions are largely symbolic, although they might sting many of the region’s political elite who often visit or vacation in the country.