How much damage will the U.S. Engel List do to the Bukele administration in El Salvador?

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Jul 2nd, 2021
Nayib Bukele
President Nayib Bukele meeting with US officials.

On Thursday, July 1, the highly anticipated corruption list, or Engel list as is popularly known, was made public by the U.S. State Department. The released corruption list includes four top officials currently part of the Nayib Bukele administration and two of Bukele’s ex-ministers.

The so-called Engel List gets its name from then-U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, the sponsor and architect of a law. The Engel U.S.-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act—that requires the State Department to assemble a list of high-profile individuals regarded as corrupt in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Corruption by public officials is a problem that has consumed El Salvador for the last 25 years. For instance, three of the previous four Salvadoran presidents have faced legal issues related to corruption. Paco Flores died awaiting corruption trial, Tony Saca is in jail serving a 10-year sentence for corruption, and Mauricio Funes is in Nicaragua hiding from Salvadoran and Guatemalan justice.

Internationally, the Bukele administration will take a hit; however, in El Salvador, the damage this list will do to the popular Nayib Bukele administration will be minimal. The list left out individuals who needed to be included. Also, president Bukele has a high job approval rate that could enable his administration to survive.

The Engel list is not complete.

Salvadorans know who their alleged corrupted officials are; that is a fact. Many of those publicly known alleged corrupted individuals were not included in this list; why is that?

For instance, Norman Quijano, Ernesto Muyshondt, Benito Lara, and Aristides Valencia allegedly paid money to criminal organizations in exchange for votes in the 2014 presidential elections and 2015 municipal and legislative elections; however, they were left out of the list. There is video and audio evidence against them; also, their case is on trial.

Also, why isn’t Mauricio Funes on this list? This corrupted ex-president allegedly stole millions of dollars from El Salvador. Funes is facing many corruption charges in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Lastly, what about the ones who received illegal bonuses under the Tony Saca administration. Margarita Escobar, a member of the right-wing political party ARENA and currently deputy, admitted receiving illegal bonuses in a TV interview. Why isn’t she on the list?

Jean Manes, the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, made it clear that this list is a living document meant to be updated at least once a year. “At any time, more names could be included,” expressed Jean Manes.

By leaving some alleged corrupted individuals out, the U.S. department corruption list could look more like an attack on the popular Nayib Bukele administration than an attack on corruption.

It is a known fact that some U.S. officials, such as Norma Torres, the U.S. Representative for California’s 35th District, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have long criticized the Bukele administration.

With an approval rate of over75%, the Nayib Bukele administration will not have a hard time justifying that this list is just plain politics and not an attack on corruption.

President Bukele job performace.

Most Salvadorans approved of the job the Bukele administration has done in the last two years; this has been confirmed by the many polls conducted by reputable organizations. It includes polls conducted by the UCA and Francisco Gavidia University, two organizations not supporters of the Bukele administration.

Bukele job approval within El Salvador could take a hit with the release of the Engel list. However, suppose the Bukele administration continues to do the job it has been doing over the last two years or improves on it. In that case, the impact of this list could be minimal.

My point of view.

This list needs to be taken seriously. It could have dire ramifications for El Salvador. I am not defending anyone listed on the Engel list; corruption by public officials needs to be stopped.

However, for the Engel list to have an effect in the country, the U.S. State Department should present evidence to the Salvadoran attorney-general so that charges against these individuals can be filed.

Internationally, Bukele and his administration will take a hit; however, this list’s damage to the popular Nayib Bukele administration in El Salvador will be minimal.

The job president Bukele has done over the last two years, and the failure of the Engel list to include well-known alleged corrupted officials will ensure the continued popularity of the Bukele administration.

Opinion