In late July, the U.S. State Department presented a report to Congress which added nearly 40 individuals from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, including former presidents, judges, and other public figures to this year’s list of “corrupt and undemocratic actors.”
Yet strangely enough, our close neighbor, Mexico—which ranks among the top five most corrupt countries globally—remains absent from this list.
Among the individuals added to the federal Engel List are two former presidents linked to corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. It also included former government officials who served in an administration with drug trafficking links, and politicians from a party whose leader was convicted of money laundering in the United States.
The primary purpose of the list is to pinpoint individuals who have knowingly engaged in acts that undermine democratic processes or institutions, in significant corruption, or in obstruction of investigations into such acts of corruption in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Those who appear on the list typically face ineligibility for visas and admission to the United States.
While any effort to combat corruption is commendable, it’s hard to read this year’s report and ignore the voids left unfilled. This list, limited to people in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, makes one contemplate what could be achieved to strengthen democratic governance and end corruption globally if it were expanded to more countries, especially those notorious for significant corruption.
Corruption has consistently plagued many nations for decades, but surprisingly, it seems to have worsened even in countries that weren’t previously associated with significant corruption.
Many Americans aren’t aware of how much dirty money is flowing into the United States’ financial system. Leaked documents from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) revealed how major banks knowingly allowed trillions of dollars of suspicious financial transactions, facilitating the movement of corrupt cash by drug kingpins, kleptocrats, and terrorists across the globe.
Another recent investigation from Reuters, complemented by a report from Mexican think tank Signos Vitales, exposes how drug cartels are using remittances and legal networks of money-transfer firms that help migrant workers send money home to their families as a means to launder the proceeds from drug sales in the U.S.
Allowing corruption to continue its current trajectory empowers criminals. For those living in the U.S. and feeling the effects of the fentanyl epidemic and the humanitarian crisis at the border, failing to fight corruption is enabling cartels to further advance their activities, continue inundating U.S. communities with record amounts of deadly drugs, and allowing them to continue devastating our communities with crime, escalating violence, and a crisis that is getting worse by the minute.
There are countless accounts of corruption of Mexican officials with profiles similar to those already on the Engel List exist. Examples abound of business figures, political elites, and government officials — a long list of governors, mayors, cabinet members, military and police officers, presidential candidates and even Mexican presidents— who have been accused of colluding with or accepting bribes from cartels. In the United States, it’s becoming increasingly evident that a lack of bold, decisive measures to fight corruption is further fueling organized criminal activities.
If the federal government is serious about fighting corruption and protecting the people and communities of the United States, it must take concrete action. One way to start is by adding Mexico to the Engel List.
The examples of corruption among Mexican officials are legion, and the impact on U.S. communities and citizens is beyond question. It’s past time to hold Mexico accountable in the fight against corruption and shield our nation and its people from the devastating influence of organized crime.