U.S. President Joe Biden has made fighting corruption at home and aboard a core national security issue. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo
July 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department has published a list of more than 50 current and former Central American officials accused of committing corruption and other actions that undermine the rule of law and democracy in their countries.
The 55 individuals of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and their alleged crimes were made public Thursday by the State Department under section 353 of the United States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, which requires them to be made ineligible for visas and admission to the United States.
The list was provided to Congress on Thursday under the act authored by former Rep. Eliot Engel in 2020 that mandates the State Department to present the list annually.
"The United States is committed to improving social, economic and political conditions in Central America because U.S. security and prosperity is tied to the success of our regional partners," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
"Our objective with these designations is to support the people of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in their efforts to form a democratic, prosperous and safe region where people can contribute to and benefit from the democratic process, have confidence in public institutions, reduce inequality and enjoy opportunities to create the futures they desire for themselves and their families," he added.
Among those named include two former presidents -- Jose Porfirio Lobo Sosa of Honduras and Alvaro Colom Caballeros of Guatemala -- a former presidential chief of staff, electoral representatives, ministers, mayors, legislative assembly members and other current and former high-ranking officials.
The list was announced as the Biden administration has placed fighting corruption as a core national security interest and as it seeks to address issues with migrants and refugees attempting to enter the United States.
President Joe Biden has issued several memorandums concerning the surge in migrants at the U.S. southern border linking the issue with corruption in the governments of the Northern Triangle.
Last month, among the memorandums he issued, one was to establish fighting corruption at home and abroad as a core U.S. national security interest and another that included actions to fight corruption in Central America, viewing it as a root cause of migration.
"Corruption and attacks on democracy are viewed as some of the most important root causes of irregular migration from Central America," Ricardo Zuniga, the State Department's special envoy for the Northern Triangle, told reporters during a Thursday press conference on the list. "They hobble governance, they distort markets, they undercut 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 don't believe they can build their futures at home."
Zuniga told the reporters that the list was prepared following extensive review of credible classified and unclassified information, and focuses on recent reports of corruption due to its intention to dissuade others from committing similar abuses.
However, the list, Zuniga said, is not the end of the State Department's efforts to hold those who undermine democracy to account.
"We don't view this as the end of the action but as an initial response to the request from Congress," he said. "We are also considering if additional actions will be taken based on information we developed during the organization of this list."
Of those named Thursday, 21 were from Honduras, 20 from Guatemala and 14 from El Salvador.