Central America's Fight Against Corruption

Oct 26, 2015 | 20:30 GMT

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Guatemalan voters elected their new president, former comedian Jimmy Morales, on Oct. 25 in a crucial second-round election after an unprecedented U.S.-backed corruption investigation forced the country's president and vice president to resign. Since corruption is deeply ingrained in Guatemala's institutions, Morales will have to be cautious to avoid the fate of detained former President Otto Perez Molina.

The United States' primary interests in Guatemala are countering narcotics and human smuggling as well as enabling the development of credible state institutions. For these reasons, the United States will continue to influence the new Guatemalan government through the use of international anti-corruption commissions such as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). It was a CICIG-led investigation that brought down Perez Molina in September. However, despite the commission's success in Guatemala, any attempt Washington makes to replicate the CICIG model in Honduras and El Salvador will face resistance from the political elites in those countries.

Even if the United States wants to export the CICIG model to Honduras and El Salvador, in the short term Washington will be constrained — particularly in El Salvador. Like the CICIG, anti-corruption commissions in Honduras and El Salvador would require governmental approval, and the Honduran and Salvadoran political elite will reject any body resembling CICIG. However, to safeguard its interests in the region, the United States will attach conditions to its economic and security aid to these countries in a bid to develop institutional legitimacy in Central America. In the long term, Hondurans could demand that the recently created Organization of American States commission be given more autonomy to prosecute and investigate. In the short term, however, even if the United States establishes commissions such as CICIG in the rest of the region, human and drug smuggling and other geopolitical realities like inequality will not disappear.