Los Angeles Times

U.S. expanding Central America blacklist

Washington to ban more officials it deems corrupt, complicati­ng efforts to stem illegal migration from region.

- By Tracy Wilkinson

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

The list, first developed last year under congressio­nal mandate, will make it difficult for some Central American government­s to do business in Washington and will complicate Washington’s efforts to fight illegal immigratio­n from the socalled Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — because numerous potential partners would be disqualifi­ed.

People on the list are denied U.S. visas, barred from traveling to the U.S. and considered off-limits to U.S. businesses and most government programs.

“Those sanctioned include former and current high-ranking government officials who have harmed their country’s democracy, further destabiliz­ed their communitie­s, and chosen personal gain over public good,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), one of the original architects of the “Engel list,” named for former Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York and frequent advocate for internatio­nal human rights.

Torres added that the blackliste­d officials “will finally face consequenc­es” for their “antidemocr­atic, corrupt actions.”

The State Department announced release of the expanded list Wednesday evening. In a statement, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken accused those named of the “underminin­g of democratic processes and institutio­ns” that ultimately contribute­s to “irregular migration and destabiliz­ing societies.”

The State Department did not immediatel­y detail names on the list but said it included 60 additional people, more than doubling the original 50 named last year.

However, people familiar with the list said it includes several senior members of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s administra­tion and a number of wealthy business figures linked to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.

At least one advisor to the new president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, will also appear on the list. Earlier this year, Castro replaced President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has since been extradited to the U.S. in connection with a massive drug-traffickin­g case, and Biden administra­tion officials had hoped the new president would head a less corrupt government.

All three presidents declined an invitation from President Biden to attend last month’s Summit of the Americas, a major regional gathering that was hosted by the U.S. for the first time in three decades and held in Los Angeles. Those presidents, along with another no-show, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, were protesting Biden’s refusal to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to the summit.

The list came out last year just as Biden put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of efforts to stem illegal immigratio­n from Central America. Her strategy was to fight “root causes” of poverty, violence and corruption that drive Central Americans from their homes.

But almost immediatel­y, she found herself in search of partners because the region’s presidents were seen as intolerabl­y corrupt or antidemocr­atic.

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

The updated list also adds officials from Nicaragua, not considered one of the Central American countries with the highest number of people fleeing to the U.S., but one seen as harboring an increasing­ly corrupt and brutal government.

Numerous members of the government run autocratic­ally by President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, as well as many of their relatives and associates, have already been slapped with economic sanctions from Washington. Inclusion on the Engel list is an additional layer of punishment.

Ortega has imprisoned or driven into exile several hundred dissidents and political opponents.

Bukele has taken a decidedly autocratic turn since his election, firing judges and the attorney general, and engineerin­g his party’s takeover of El Salvador’s Legislativ­e Assembly.

El Faro, a Salvadoran news outlet highly regarded in the region and regularly attacked by Bukele, reported that the government’s treasury minister, Alejandro Zelaya, is named on the updated list, even as he attempts to renegotiat­e El Salvador’s foreign debt with the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund, based in Washington, where Zelaya would no longer be able to travel.

There was no official comment from any of the sanctioned officials except for the head of the legislativ­e delegation of Bukele’s New Ideas party, Christian Guevara, who told Salvadoran newspapers that his U.S. visa had been canceled but that he was proud to have been sanctioned for doing what he thought was right for his country.

 ?? Salvador Melendez Associated Press ?? MEMBERS of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s administra­tion are on the updated list, sources say.
Salvador Melendez Associated Press MEMBERS of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s administra­tion are on the updated list, sources say.

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