Between tweets and screenshots showing alleged WhatsApp conversations, the tension between the United States and El Salvador rose again, this time on social media.
Hours after the US Treasury Department issued another list of alleged corrupt officials and former officials in Central America – among which is the Salvadoran government chief of staff, Martha Carolina Recino, for alleged misuse of public funds – President Nayib Bukele He responded with a tweet criticizing the “absolute subjugation” of the United States and calling the “daily accusations” “absurd”.
El Salvador and the United States maintain a tense relationship after the events of May 1, when the Congress of El Salvador dismissed the magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice and the attorney general and immediately appointed and sworn in to substitutes.
Thursday’s list, from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), is an announcement of financial sanctions against people like Recinos. These imply, among other things, that all the properties or interests in properties of these people who are in the United States are blocked, as well as any entity that they partially or totally own.
Bukele tweeted on Thursday that when Jean Manes was charge d’affaires in El Salvador, she asked him for the release of former mayor Ernesto Muyshondt and assured that his “actions against crime” in the country do not have the US backing. In response, US Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols tweeted Thursday that Bukele’s allegations were “false.”
Nichols attributed the comments to “unjustified personal attacks” and expressed that they seek to “distract” the Salvadoran people from the corruption of their government and the damage it is causing to relations between the two countries. The undersecretary affirmed that Washington will continue to be a close friend and ally of the Salvadoran people, and welcomed dialogue and a better relationship, but maintained that the US government’s position will not be subject to remaining silent in the face of harmful actions.
Shortly after, the Salvadoran president reacted to Nichols’ message by showing on his social network account an alleged WhatsApp conversation between him and Manes about Muyshondt, who is detained accused of alleged negotiations with gangs, to follow a judge’s order to put him in under house arrest his health condition.
Along with the aforementioned list, the State Department also issued a new list of “corrupt actors” on Thursday, including Nestor Moncada Lau, an adviser to the government of President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua who allegedly accepted a bribe in exchange. of handling a fraudulent plan in imports and customs with the aim of enriching several officials.
The State Department also includes Carlos Julián Bermeo Casas, a former prosecutor with Colombia‘s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), on the list for allegedly accepting a bribe in exchange for obstructing the extradition to the United States of a drug trafficking suspect.
The Joe Biden government has said that fighting corruption is one of its priorities to curb migration, along with improvements in economic and social conditions in Central American countries. Thursday’s lists of alleged corrupt Latin American officials are issued at a time when Washington is holding a summit called the Summit for Democracy in which countries like El Salvador or Nicaragua are not invited.
Recinos, the Bukele government chief of staff, is also on the State Department’s list of “corrupt actors”, which means she is prohibited from entering the United States. In July, the State Department had already included it in a list delivered to the United States Congress, in accordance with the US-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act, promoted last year by federal representative Eliot Engel.
According to a statement from the Treasury Department on Thursday, Recinos authorized purchases of masks and hospital supplies offered by companies “with no apparent ties to the health field” during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also sold protective materials that had been donated, for his personal benefit. The United States also said that Recinos allowed food baskets bought by the government to alleviate the hunger of families during the pandemic to be used by candidates of his ruling party during campaign events for the legislative and municipal elections in February.
Thursday’s sanctions come on International Anti-Corruption Day, the Treasury Department said.