Analysis: Corruption in Central America thwarts US plan to tackle ‘root causes’ of migration


WASHINGTON, June 3 (Reuters) – More than a year after U.S. President Joe Biden’s sweeping efforts to tackle the “root causes” of migration with aid to Central America, projects of likely value millions of dollars have been canceled or suspended due to corruption. and governance issues, said US officials and others monitoring the issue.

The setbacks come as the Biden administration hosts the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles next week, where the United States hopes to find common ground with other nations and issue a joint statement on migration. Read more

Meanwhile, corruption in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has also limited potential investment by U.S. companies, another part of Biden’s strategy, according to a group coordinating the effort.

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In a stark example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) abruptly suspended an undisclosed amount of funding tied to Guatemala’s Justice Ministry in July 2021 after a special prosecutor targeting corruption was fired days later. early. Read more

USAID also redirected funding for Justice Department-related projects in El Salvador weeks after El Salvador’s Congress, dominated by lawmakers aligned with President Nayib Bukele, voted to remove top judges and the attorney general in El Salvador. May 2021. read more

Bukele tweeted at the time that the layoffs were justified and that they were “cleaning the house”. Read more

USAID declined to break down specifics of the projects or say how much funding was suspended in either case, but it likely amounted to millions of dollars in funding to strengthen legal systems, experts told Reuters .

As efforts have failed over the past year, a record number of migrants have attempted to illegally cross the US-Mexico border, fueling criticism from Republicans as they seek to take control of Congress in the US-Mexico election. mid-term on November 8. Migrants from the three countries – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – were caught crossing the border more than 300,000 times from October 2021 to April this year, according to US government data, a quarter of all border arrests.

Biden, a Democrat who took office in January 2021, has pledged to reverse the isolationist approach of his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who suspended aid to the region in a bid to force countries to crack down on migrants heading north.

Signaling the importance of strategy, Vice President Kamala Harris has been named to the helm. She brought together leading American companies to invest in the region and visited Guatemala in June 2021, where she announced the beginning of a “new era”. Read more

But US-Guatemalian relations cooled a month later when Guatemalan Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras fired the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. Relations were strained last month when Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei reappointed Porras to office, leading the United States to sanction her for corruption. Read more

Giammattei’s office, in response to questions from Reuters, said corruption is a historical and structural problem and the government has prioritized tackling it.

‘DISINCITATION TO INVESTMENT’

Tensions could spill over to the top. Biden officials hope the hemispheric rally, held every three or four years, will help reassert American influence in the region after what Biden said were years of neglect under Trump, but it’s still unclear if the Giammattei of Guatemala will be present. Read more

Philip Gordon, Harris’ national security adviser, said in an interview that the administration has been “honest from the start” about the challenges of corruption and that it “needs to be dealt with.”

Asked about US criticism of corruption in the Guatemalan justice system, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro said last week that the government was addressing the issue but would not allow outside interference to affect the sovereignty of the country.

Governance issues have also reduced the potential of the private sector initiative led by Harris to invest in the three countries. Read more

The Partnership for Central America, a nonprofit launched last year to coordinate the effort, withdrew in March from co-hosting an event with the Guatemalan government on the country’s approach corruption,” said Jonathan Fantini-Porter, the group’s chief executive. .

The partnership has also limited its engagement in El Salvador.

“Corruption is a big problem,” Fantini-Porter said. “It’s a brake on investment.”

With limited options for partners in the region, Harris flew to Honduras in January to attend the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro. read more Juan Orlando Hernandez, Castro’s predecessor, was arrested and extradited to the United States for drug and firearms trafficking. Read more

The Biden administration requested $861 million for the root cause effort in Central America last year, an increase of more than 50% from the previous year and is asking for even more this year. But even some Democratic allies are skeptical of the push for more funds.

“We give them credit for recognizing that supporting criminals is a bad idea,” said Tim Rieser, foreign policy aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “On the other hand, we don’t know yet what the plan is.”

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Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Enrique Garcia in Guatemala City and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Editing by Mica Rosenberg

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