On March 5, 2003, I joined Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office as an intern, as part of my mandatory criminal practice, during my undergraduate studies in legal and social sciences at the State University of San Carlos, Guatemala (Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala). I never imagined that this initial internshipwould turn into a love for the defense of truth and justice, and that I would later participate in the prosecution and trial of three Guatemalan presidents, a vice president, dozens of legislators, state ministers, magistrates,and judges. All of these officials, and in turn cases, shared the common characteristic of having served as part of illicit political and economic networks that sought to generate impunity for their crimes.
The opportunity to work in public service allowed me to bring a little hope to the people of Guatemala who –like the majority of Latin American countries– have been destined to a history and life of eternal resistance in the face of injustice.
There has been much attention to the “Engel List” in Central America in recent weeks. The list of corrupt and undemocratic actors published by the US Department of State on July 1 was highly anticipated, especially after a list of corrupt Central American officials requested by Congresswoman Norma Torres was published in May. With the Torres list paving the way, a total of 55 individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were included on the Engel List, including high-level judges, members of Congress, and (in the case of El Salvador) presidential administration officials.
Many of those placed on the list or associated with those named have sought to downplay its importance or asserted a lack of evidence against them. But what does inclusion on the Engel list actually mean? How important is it from the US perspective and what weight does it have?
President Joe Biden’s Administration has been very clear that one of its top priorities is addressing the massive migration of people to the United States, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Biden has opted to distance himself from the human rights-violating policies and the hostile and criminalizing narrative of his predecessor in office, Donald Trump; and instead, has promised a humanitarian approach and effective measures to attack the real underlying problems: insecurity, hopelessness and lack of opportunities and welfare in the countries of origin, which force people to migrate.
This “root causes strategy» is being constructed with the involvement of several agencies, and rests on a sound premise: the need to understand the structural nature of the causes of migration, and that these causes cannot be resolved either in the short term or solely with the transfer of financial resources to governments. Where to begin, then, in addressing these issues?