US politicians are ramping up pressure on Central American countries to keep up their anti-corruption efforts as these initiatives continue to stir political controversy in the region.
Several US senators sent a letter to the State Department on September 6 reiterating their "unwavering support" for the rule of law in Guatemala, following an attempt by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to remove Iván Velásquez, the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG).
In the letter, the senators recommended that State Department officials should consider cutting US assistance to Guatemala by 50 percent if the government is not taking "effective steps" to cooperate with "commissions against corruption and impunity."
The next day, members of the House of Representatives voted to approve an amendment that would protect US funds destined for the CICIG and the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras - MACCIH), a similar body operating in the neighboring country.
These actions come against the backdrop of a political firestorm ignited by Guatemalan President Morales' move to expel Velásquez. Prosecutors are asking congress to remove Morales' presidential immunity so that a probe into alleged campaign finance violations can move forward. A congressional commission examining the matter issued a recommendation in favor of advancing the charges on September 10.
And in Honduras, the MACCIH has recently begun investigating former President Porfirio Lobo Sosa following a US trial against his son Fabio Lobo, during which accusations were made that the ex-leader accepted bribes from the Cachiros criminal organization.
InSight Crime Analysis
The tightening of the screws by US authorities is a signal that their commitment to anti-graft efforts in Central America may go beyond mere words. In February of this year, members of the US Congress passed a resolution expressing the "sense of the House of Representatives" that "combating corruption … must remain a top policy priority for the United States in Central America."
Now, even though the international anti-graft bodies are targeting powerful elites in key US partner nations, US officials seem to be expressing more support than ever for these initiatives. And threats to cut aid might be just the beginning.
As InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley pointed out in a recent Facebook Live discussion on the subject, US authorities could consider levying sanctions or even criminal charges against Central American elites suspected of corruption if those forces are successful in long-running efforts to interfere with anti-graft investigations and prosecutions.