On May 16, 2019, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, during the 3rd Ministerial of the Northern Triangle Attorneys General announced that, as part of a coordinated law enforcement action known as Operation Regional Shield,President Trump has approved continued funding for law enforcement efforts between the U.S. and the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras).
In particular Barr said the U.S. will continue fund law enforcement efforts, through the ongoing work of the project’s law enforcement efforts, through the continuing work of the U.S. Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT) Resident Legal Advisors in each of the three countries, through the FBI’s Transnational Anti-Gang teams, through the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Sensitive Investigative Units, and through Homeland Security’s (HSI) work to counter human smuggling and trafficking.
Barr said the meeting has reaffirmed his belief that the safety of the citizens of the U.S. and Northern Triangle is interdependent and together they will not only confront but will defeat the criminal gangs.
Inconsistency of U.S. Enforcement Policy with Northern Triangle Countries
In recent months the Trump Administration’s policy in terms of cooperation with the Northern Triangle has not been consistent. For instance, on March 28, 2019, then Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen signed, on behalf of the United States, a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) on border security cooperation in Central America. Almost simultaneously, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he was planning on cutting U.S. assistance to the three countries and has threatened to close the border with Mexico.
The initiatives of the U.S. and other governments against transnational organized crime in Central America can be classified in eight areas: whole-of-government solutions; interdiction of criminal flows; targeting of transnational criminal organization leaders; use of the military in a domestic law enforcement; institutional reform within law enforcement; targeting the financial flows and resources of organized criminal groups; prison control and reform; and binational and multinational cooperation against organized crime. (See R. Evan Ellis, Transnational Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean 103-4 (2018).
During his trip Barr highlighted DOJ priorities, including interdicting illegal narcotics, dismantling MS-13, the 18th Street Gang and other transnational criminal organizations, and combatting illegal migration and human trafficking. While in El Salvador, the Attorney General visited the International Law Enforcement Academy.
Effort of Guatemalan Morales Administration to End the Work of the International Commission against Impunty (CICIG)
One setback for the fight against anti-corruption is the effort by the current Guatemala Administration of Jimmy Morales to terminate the work of the International Commission against Impunty (CICIG), which the United Nations established to strength the efforts against organized crime and corruption after Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. See Elisabeth Malkin, Latin America Risks Losing Potential Weapon Against Corruption, N.Y. Times, May 19, 2009, at 10, col. 1.
On May 15, the Guatemala high court rejected the appeal of Thelma Aldana, a crusading former prosecutor, to participate in Guatemala’s presidential election. As a result, at least two of the top three candidates, according to polls, will not be able to run in the election. The decision on Aldana seemed to arise from fears over her zealous prosecutions of corruption in politics and business. Aldana has been denied the right to participate in the election because she lacked a document accrediting that she did not have any outstanding accounts after she was responsible for public funds during her serving as from her time as a former prosecutor.
The Trump Administration has not supported the CICIG, as prior U.S. Administrations have. As a result Morales’ announcement to not renew the CICIG’s two-year mandate in September 2019 and his denial of Ivan Velázquez, the Colombian head of the Commission, in September 2018, mean that, notwithstanding its strong record of prosecuting corruption and transnational organized crime, the lack of independent prosecutors in the Guatemalan government, and the importance of strong and independent prosecutors to better stabilize the security situation in Guatemala, the CICIG may well expire in September. Indeed the enormous security problems due to the proliferation of gangs, gun violence, and corruption fuel migration from Guatemala.