Money

To Fight Central America’s Unhealthy Governance, Biden Can’t Simply Throw Cash on the Downside

President Joe Biden faces a dilemma: To curb the exodus of migrants from Central America, the must Systems of governance of these countries need a thorough overhaul, which will cost a lot of money. Just pouring money into countries with corrupt administrations, legislatures, judicial authorities and elites will mean little more than refilling a leaky bucket. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, the past four years have seen earlier successes and the challenges of working against impunity and corruption are growing. Although countries have different dynamics and schedules, they were all setbacks.

Under the circumstances, the $ 4 billion Biden pledged to improve the lives of Central Americans must be carefully managed so as not to simply get dragged into the kleptocracy machine. It’s not just about prioritizing governance, it’s also about doing it intelligently. That requires a detailed approach. The Biden administration is already signal The aim is to pass the funds on to reliable partners and to demand transparency in accounting and progress in the fight against corruption. Members of Congress are asking for the same. A few concrete measures could immediately help restore a solid foundation.

A few years ago, hybrid international state mechanisms to strengthen the prosecution were celebrated for their obvious successes. The most ambitious and successful, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), resulted in more than 400 criminal convictions, including heads of state, lawmakers, judges and executives, over a period of 11 years, and dismantled around 70 criminal networks (see previous Just Security coverage). Honduras MACCIH (Mission to Support Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras) has managed, over its much shorter lifespan, to set up a vetted anti-corruption prosecutor and investigate a number of high profile cases. The newest and weakest of these mechanisms is the International Commission against Corruption and Impunity (CICIES) in The saviourworks there with the public prosecutor’s office on fraud related to Covid, among other things.

But much of that progress has been reversed under the Trump administration, and Biden cannot turn back the clock. While innovative mechanisms such as CICIG created opportunities, created victories and stimulated changes in criminal proceedings, the constellation of factors that made these ad hoc mechanisms possible is very unlikely to repeat itself. All depend on legislative and judicial approval and the political will of the executive, and none of this is likely to come from governments controlled by the same old corrupt forces (or, in El Salvador, by new authoritarian forces with little appetite for the outside world) Control). . A regional mechanism will face the same headwinds, although support from other countries in the region could potentially make it more profitable.

Use US aid

However, there is a way to leverage the vital work of these mechanisms: states must implement the recommendations of the CICIG, MACCIH, and CICIES as a condition of receiving US funding. All three mechanisms that have been left behind (or are still being created in El Salvador) are preparing extensive reform proposals to improve anti-corruption and impunity work. In the case of Guatemala, CICIG proposed far-reaching reforms to the judicial selection process. She proposed other key reforms to improve access to justice, minimize malicious law enforcement and delay tactics, professionalize the judiciary, and separate the judiciary from administrative duties. These were never implemented. MACCIH has also left a roadmap for the reforms needed and CICIES has started recommending changes in several areas.

In all three cases, victims’ access to justice was a key to the reforms, however was hemmed in by courtsespecially in cases of corruption. Corrupt officials are trying to close the cases left by CICIG and MACCIH without further investigation. The US Congress and the Biden administration should insist on a roadmap, timeline, and milestones for the proposed reforms, as well as monitoring the remaining CICIG and MACCIH files to determine how and when funds will be disbursed.

Biden has said He will ask the US Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors to work with their local counterparts in the region. But simply teaching better technical skills is not what prosecutors need. In all three countries, crusade attorneys general have been replaced by those not interested in taking over powerful state and elite private interests (with the partial and likely temporary exception of Raúl Melara in El Salvador). It is the specific units within these offices, such as the FECI (anti-corruption) or the human rights criminal units in Guatemala and the UFERCO anti-corruption unit in Honduras, that need direct support – political, security and diplomatic even more than technical and financially. All funds for these units must be protected from leakage through other parts of the AG offices as the United States also works to move these offices to be more efficient and honest.

Rule of law judges are becoming an endangered species in the region. In every country these judges are attacked. Anti-impunity judges at Guatemala’s Constitutional Court have faced constant threats of impeachment and worse, and the current judicial selection process has already continued to exert undue influence. Guatemala has set up high-risk judicial processes for corruption, organized crime and human rights cases, partly with the help of CICIG, but left the judges against impunity in that court exposed to constant harassment, even threats, tried law enforcement and lockdown. In El Salvador there were attempts to remove the judge in the El Mozote massacre (what I discussed here) out of the case, and these types of maneuvers can be expected when the criminal proceedings are only inches forward. Biden could expressly support these judges and make non-interference in their cases an indispensable requirement for any support.

Dissolve coalitions of the corrupt

As others have suggested, the anti-transplant penalties are the Angel list and the Global Magnitsky Act should be used strategically to break apart and weaken coalitions of the corrupt. This would open up opportunities for legislative changes (including campaign funding reform) and for the emergence of new clean hands political forces.

In order to achieve this, the United States would have to redefine its overarching goal from the temporal pursuit of regional stability at any cost. During the Obama years, a narrow definition of stability did not serve the United States well. This led, for example, to the decision to support the 2009 coup in Honduras, which paved the way for the current corrupt and criminal regime. In 2015, amid massive popular protests in Guatemala and the resignation of the President and Vice-President over allegations of corruption, the United States insisted on maintaining the election calendar until electoral funding and administration could be cleaned up, despite widespread calls for a postponement. The result was Jimmy Morales, whose attempt to hide his illegal campaign funding and his family’s corruption led to the overthrow of CICIG. President Biden, who was close to these decisions, should learn from them. Sustainable stability requires a different US approach.

After all, greatly expanded resources without strict accountability will only backfire. It’s not just that money shouldn’t be given directly to corrupt leaders and ministries. Even private and civil society groups should be screened for authenticity, leadership and local reputation. Organized crime and other corrupt forces are known to form their own civil society groups to obtain and divert funds, and local elites have long been involved in corrupt schemes.

It is especially important that USAID funds, including public-private partnerships in areas where corruption has flourished (such as health, housing, energy and infrastructure), are carefully monitored and partners are vetted before any money is paid out. There are groups in the US and across the region who can provide information about the makeup of corruption networks, who is who, and whether recipients are known for their honesty.

Whistleblowers and local communities affected by projects (or a corrupt diversion of funds) must have easy access to financial and social accountability mechanisms within USAID and other US agencies. Such protective measures extend the project design and implementation. But in the long run it will give hard-won US dollars the best chance of actually reaching the people in the region in order to create the conditions they need for a life worth living that they do not want or have to leave.

BILD: A doctor wearing a mask with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez takes part in an anti-corruption protest in Tegucigalpa on September 11, 2020 amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP via Getty Images)