El Salvador Refuses UN Anti-Corruption Body

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El Salvador has reportedly rejected the establishment of a proposed United Nations-backed anti-corruption body, perhaps indicating the government is fearful of a political crisis like that unleashed in Guatemala after investigations by a similar UN commission, which claimed the political lives of the president and vice-president. 

Despite pressure from US authorities, El Salvador has decided against creating an international commission to investigate graft within the government, a Salvadoran official told Reuters. In its place, the government is expected to renew an anti-corruption initiative with weaker investigative powers run by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The United States has been trying to get El Salvador to agree to an anti-impunity body modeled after the UN-backed commission in Guatemala, known by its Spanish initials as the CICIG, since at least July, according to Reuters. Investigations by the CICIG uncovered a massive fraud ring within Guatemala’s customs agency, allegedly run by former President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. Both Perez Molina and Baldetti are currently in prison awaiting trial. 

The USAID program is reportedly a five-year plan and will cost $25 million, significantly cheaper than the CICIG’s price tag. However, unlike the CICIG, which has conducted wire taps and raids to investigate criminal networks, the USAID initiative will only rely on “political will and implementation of transparency regulations,” according to official documents accessed by Reuters. 

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador’s rejection of a CICIG-like model is likely motivated by the government’s fear of what a powerful international body equipped with broad, independent investigative powers could potentially uncover. In Guatemala, the CICIG has been instrumental in revealing corruption far beyond just the president’s office; the body also took down the head of the social security agency, a prominent congressman and several other important government and criminal operators. The CICIG has been so successful of late, its commissioner, Ivan Velasquez, is now more popular in Guatemala than the two candidates running in Sunday’s presidential election. 

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While it’s obvious why El Salvador’s government would be reluctant to have any corruption exposed, it is under pressure from the international community to take steps to combat impunity. The decision to renew the USAID plan is likely an attempt to appease foreign backers (the most notable being the United States) while also limiting the body’s ability to actually investigate graft. Similar concerns have been raised about the new anti-corruption body in Honduras being put in place by the Organization of American States.

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