El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren

The United Nations has announced the creation of a US-financed anti-graft program in El Salvador, underscoring the United States' resolution to tackle corruption in Central America's gang-plagued Northern Triangle region. 

On January 25, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the establishment of an anti-corruption program in El Salvador, reported Reuters. The program will work with existing institutions by training Salvadoran officials to detect and investigate cases of corruption, reported El Diario De Hoy

However, the program will lack the broad investigative powers enjoyed by the UN-backed anti-impunity commission in Guatemala, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG).

"This is not the CICIG," said Monica Mendoza, a UNODC representative who will oversee the program.

The CICIG has been instrumental in investigating several high-level politicians in Guatemala for graft, including former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, both of whom are currently in prison awaiting trial. 

The US government will finance the three-year project, although the budget is not yet known. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The United States is making a strong push to combat corruption in El Salvador, which along with Honduras and Guatemala make up Central America's Northern Triangle region. In addition to the new UN program, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is sponsoring a separate anti-corruption body in El Salvador with a price tag of $25 million. The US government has also pressured El Salvador to accept a UN commission with a mandate and investigative authority similar to the CICIG in Guatemala, albeit without success.

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This emphasis on combating corruption is linked in part to the Central American migrant crisis that has overwhelmed the US immigration system in recent years. The US Congress recently earmarked $750 million for aid programs that will attempt to address rampant gang violence and poverty, which has ravaged the Northern Triangle and driven millions from their homes.

But US officials are fearful this money could go to waste unless corruption is addressed. Indeed, 75 percent of the aid money is conditioned on Northern Triangle governments reducing the level of corruption and impunity while improving rule of law standards.

Still, this anti-corruption push may not amount to much without more support from the region's governments. The UN and USAID programs in El Salvador are by design much weaker than the CICIG, while similar concerns have been raised about the anti-impunity body that was recently launched in Honduras. This means government officials will continue to be responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of graft, something for which neither El Salvador nor Honduras has a strong track record.