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Shannon O'Neil

The Fight Against Corruption in Central America Needs to Get Ugly

When the region’s governments are such problematic partners, going around and after them is the only solution.

With friends like these ...

With friends like these ...

Photographer: Johan Orbonez/AFP via Getty Images

Honduras’s president is accused of stealing money from government coffers and taking bribes from narco-traffickers. Guatemala’s head is known for handing out government contracts to family friends. El Salvador’s president has shut down the country’s internationally funded anti-corruption agency and expanded politicians’ immunity from prosecution.

“Rooting out” corruption in Central America is the key to restoring hope and opportunity in the region and persuading its citizens to stay home, says the Biden administration. Yet to truly change things, it needs to take on not just the symptoms but the political and economic systems that force hundreds of thousands to leave their homelands. This thorny task means confronting the U.S.’s ostensible partners, the region’s governments, who are more of a problem than a solution.