Apr 29, 2021 - World

Central American leaders targeted for corruption sanctions

Juan Orlando Hernandez, Honduras' president, speaks during the United Nations General Assembly seen on a laptop computer.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, Honduras' president, speaks during the United Nations General Assembly as seen on a laptop computer. Photo: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned a current and a former Guatemalan government official, and some Democrats want restrictions on Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández over corruption allegations.

Why it matters: The moves come after U.S. federal prosecutors said they are investigating Hernández in connection with drug trafficking in the U.S. and for vowing to "‘shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos." Congressional leaders also are pressing for action in Honduras to halt migration.

The details: The U.S. Treasury Department announced on Monday it had blacklisted two Guatemalans, Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, a former presidential chief of staff, and Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, a delegate to the Congress.

  • The department alleged that Gustavo Alejos sought to interfere with a judicial selection process in order to facilitate his release from house arrest and dismissal of corruption charges against him.
  • Felipe Alejos facilitated bribes in the scheme, the department said.
  • The blacklisting means any of their assets in the U.S. are frozen and Americans are barred from business dealings with the men.

What they're saying: “When elected officials in Guatemala pursue self-enrichment in their official duties, it is an affront to democratic principles in the region,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

  • “This action serves to shine a light on corruption and promote accountability for those who would seek to thwart the judicial process.”

Meanwhile, a measure introduced in the U.S. Senate and House would impose restrictions on Honduran President Hernández over allegations of drug trafficking and human rights violations.

  • The bill would suspend U.S. security assistance and weapons to the Honduran police and military.
  • “The Honduran people continue to leave their country because of violence, corruption and lack of economic opportunities. The institutions intended to protect the public are instead violating human rights and protecting criminals and drug traffickers,” said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), one of the bill's lead sponsors.

The big question: Jason Marczak, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, said tackling corruption and human rights abuses in Honduras is essential for putting the country on a long-term path to growth and prosperity.

  • "Rampant corruption, including allegations of President Hernandez’ direct ties to narcotraffickers...gives clear and just pause for working too closely with many members of the national government."

The intrigue: The president's brother and former Honduran lawmaker, Tony Hernández, was sentenced last month to life in prison for distributing firearms and 185 tons of cocaine in the U.S.

Don't forget: Hispanic U.S. House members are pushing for an aggressive, multiyear "Marshall Plan" for Central America to tackle regional violence, corruption and economic devastation.

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