On June 17, the US government announced it was sanctioning a Guatemalan congressman, Boris España Cáceres, and his immediate family.
The US State Department went on to specify that España Cáceres, along with his wife and his two children, would be banned from entering the US. The department cited España Cáceres’s involvement “in corrupt acts, including bribery and interfering with public processes, that jeopardized the stability of Guatemala’s democratic institutions and the Guatemalan public’s confidence in its representatives” as the reason for the designation.
The move to sanction España Cáceres isn’t without precedent or warning.
As part of its plan to address the influx of Central American migrants at the US-Mexico border, the Biden administration plans to address the root causes of migration — and corruption is chief among them. A week earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris made a visit to Guatemala, during which she and Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammettei announced the launch of a new anti-corruption task force that would work with Guatemalan authorities and train them to conduct investigations into corruption.
The sanctions against España Cáceres and his family also come on the heels of a report the State Department released in May, which named several officials in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — known collectively as the Northern Triangle — that the US government has deemed to be corrupt. España Cáceres was among those named. Specifically, the report stated that “credible news reports indicate Espana was a key intermediary in an influence-peddling and active bribery corruption ring.”
España Cáceres isn’t the first Guatemalan official to be sanctioned this year either. In late April, in coordination with the UK, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two others. The US designated Felipe Alejos Lorenzana, another Guatemalan congressman, and Gustavo Adolfo Alejos Cambara, the chief of staff to former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom. The UK, for its part, sanctioned Lorenzana and a Honduran congressman Oscar Ramon Najera, who is said to have facilitated bribes that supported Los Cachiros, an organized crime syndicate in the country.
All three of these individuals were also on the list the State Department published in May.
These designations likely don’t come as a surprise to anyone, given that corruption has long plagued the Northern Triangle countries. But sanctions announcements and reports such as these serve to refocus our attention on the issue and highlight the susceptibility of government officials and other PEPs to misconduct. The outflows of individuals fleeing these corrupt nations further underscore that there is a human cost as well.
Moreover, no country is exempt. While PEPs in high-risk jurisdictions, such as those from the Northern Triangle countries, may deserve higher scrutiny, financial institutions must take care to identify and scrutinize PEPs regardless of which jurisdiction they hail from.