On September 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced the addition of seven perpetrators of the United States’ Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors list. The additions included Elsy Dueñas De Aviles, Oscar Alberto López Jerez, Hector Nahun Martinez Garcia, Jose Angel Perez Chacon, and Luis Javier Suárez Magaña, current Magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador. Maria Consuelo Porras Argueta De Porres, current Attorney General of Guatemala, and Angel Arnoldo Pineda Avila, current Secretary-General of Guatemala’s Public Ministry, were added to the list for obstructing investigations into acts of corruption in the State. Placement on the United States’ Undemocratic and Corrupt Actors list makes the perpetrators ineligible for visas and admission to the United States.
The sanctions placed on September 10 were placed in response to current events in El Salvador and Guatemala. Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, maintained that the United States is committed to supporting the people of El Salvador and Guatemala in the pursuit of democratic institutions and equitable economic opportunities.
Current Events in El Salvador
The U.S. Department of State has accused the current Magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of undermining democratic processes in Guatemala by accepting direct appointments to the Chamber by the Legislative Assembly. While the Magistrates assert that their installation to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court was constitutional, the actions appear to have circumvented the processes laid out in the Salvadoran constitution. The U.S. Department of State, therefore, views the actions committed by the Magistrates to have undermined democratic processes in El Salvador.
While the presidency of Nayib Bukele is quite popular throughout El Salvador, critics have raised concerns regarding the blockage of access to information, infringement on independent media, politicization of the armed forces, and erosion of institutional checks and balances. The movement to replace all five magistrates and the Attorney General of the country is thought to be a tactic to remove his political opponents from office, as the past Attorney General opened corruption investigations against several of the President’s Cabinet Ministers. The actions taken against the current Magistrates, therefore, are an effort by the United States to condemn the unchecked authority of President Bukele and promote freedom of political expression in El Salvador.
Current Events in Guatemala
The U.S. Department of State has denounced Maria Consuelo Porras Argueta De Porre for ordering prosecutors in Guatemala’s Public Ministry to ignore cases based on political considerations, as well as undermining investigations carried out by the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity. Juan Francisco Sandoval, then-lead prosecutor of the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, fled the country in July soon after being removed from his position by Porras. The U.S. Department of State also sanctioned Angel Arnoldo Pineda Avila for interfering in anticorruption investigations; he allegedly tipped off investigative targets about the cases that were being built against them.
Corruption in the Guatemalan criminal justice system is largely caused by extortion of public officials by clandestine organizations. During Guatemala’s civil war (1960-1996), cuerpos illegales were civilian groups armed by the military that engaged in campaigns of horror and repression of the indigenous Mayan population. While the elimination of Cuerpos Illegales y Apartaos Clandestinos de Seguridad (CIACS, or the Clandestine Security Apparatus in English) was stipulated in the Comprehensive Agreement of Human Rights of 1994, no structure was set in place to truly eliminate its presence in Guatemala. While many members of the cuerpos illegals went into retirement, some were integrated into the police force, and many of the younger members joined private security companies.
The clandestine security apparatus after the civil war continued to operate in illicit activities with the mission to suborn the legal system to protect personal gains. In recent years, the CIACS has exploited an institutional framework including the judiciary, the Attorney General’s Office, public criminal defense attorneys, and associations of judges and magistrates. Gangs have served the clandestine structures of the state to ensure control of prisons and the distribution and sale of drugs, and protection to the cartels is ensured through extortion of officials in the criminal justice system. The alleged actions committed by Porras and Avila have upheld this inequitable system and thwarted anticorruption efforts to mitigate it; the U.S. Department of State hopes that these sanctions will hold public officials accountable for their nefarious activities.
The October issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of the origins of political corruption in both El Salvador and Guatemala.
 Antony J. Blinken, United States Announced Actions Against Seven Central American Officials for Undermining Democracy and Obstructing Investigations into Acts of Corruption, U.S. Department of State, September 20, 2021, https://www.state.gov/united-states-announces-actions-against-seven-central-american-officials-for-undermining-democracy-and-obstructing-investigations-into-acts-of-corruption/.
 Adam Isacson, a Critical Moment for El Salvador’s Democracy, WOLA, February 19, 2021, https://www.wola.org/analysis/a-critical-moment-for-el-salvadors-democracy/..
 El Salvador’s moves against Attorney General, Constitutional Court: “Direct Attack on Democratic Institutions”, WOLA, May 3, 2021, https://www.wola.org/2021/05/el-salvador-attorney-general-constitutional-court/.
 Guatemalan anti-corruption prosecutor flees country after sacking,, Aljazeera, July 24, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/24/guatemala-anti-corruption-prosecutor-flees-country-after-sacking.
 Antony J. Blinken, supra.
 Carlos Castresana, Guatemala: Illegal Entities and the Clandestine Security Apparatus, Criminalized power structures: the overlooked enemies of peace, at 53, 2016 (Michael Dziedzic, ed).
 Id. at 59.
 Id. at 60.
 Id. at 61.