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U.S. Documents Link El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele to Drug Trafficking, Corruption

Among those named is Bukele’s chief of staff, Carolina Recinos, one of the officials closest to the Salvadoran president

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A declassified State Department document links high-ranking officials of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and other politicians in the Central American country to corruption and drug trafficking, according to local media on Monday.

El Faro, El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Gráfica reported on an extract of a report declassified on May 4 that lists the names of “high-ranking government officials who are credibly presumed to have committed or facilitated corruption or drug trafficking”.

Among those named is Bukele’s chief of staff, Carolina Recinos, one of the officials closest to the Salvadoran president.

The document, a copy of which was published by El Faro on social media, states that Recinos is allegedly involved in “important acts of corruption during her term in office.

It also states that Rogelio Rivas, who was removed from his post as security minister in mid-March, allegedly awarded contracts to a company he owned for the construction of police stations and other buildings that depended on his office and with inflated costs.

Among those accused of possible acts of corruption is also Guillermo Gallegos, congressman and member of the Board of Directors of the Legislative Assembly and influential leader of the party that brought Bukele to the presidency in 2019, the right-wing Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA).

Likewise, the report reports on José Luis Merino, a former vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, ex-guerrilla fighter and one of the main leaders of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

Despite being a member of the party that ousted Bukele in 2017, Merino was singled out in September 2020 in a report by American consultant and journalist Douglas Farah for maintaining ties to the Bukele government.

In July 2016, former Attorney General Douglas Meléndez (2015-2018) revealed that Merino, known as “Ramiro” during the civil war (1980-1992), had been under investigation since 2014 for allegedly trafficking drugs and arms with Colombian guerrilla group FARC.

Another one of those singled out is Sigfrido Reyes, former president of the Legislative Assembly for the FMLN and currently being prosecuted on corruption charges.

Bukele’s silence

Upon questions from the international press about any comment on the list, through the WhatsApp application, a liaison from the Government Communications Secretariat shared a tweet from President Bukele related to alleged acts of corruption by the opposition Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena).

“They say ‘friends’ that they have already reviewed all the files and information they have and that in ARENA there are no corrupt people, NOT ONE,” he posted on Twitter without referring directly to the list.

He added: “That maybe they will review again in the future, but they think everyone is a saint. That’s why they insist that we return them to power, because they are saints”.

Relations between El Salvador and the United States are not at their best. Tensions increased after the Legislative Assembly, with a large pro-government majority, voted to dismiss five magistrates of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and the attorney general.

This list is part of the “annex to the 90-day report on corrupt officials in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala transmitted to Congress in April 2021,” according to press reports and the released copy.

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