El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele delivers his annual address to the nation marking his second year in office at the Legislative Assembly in San Salvador on June 1, 2021. (MARVIN RECINOS / AFP)
El Salvador on Friday pulled out of an anti-corruption accord with the Organization of American States (OAS) in protest at an OAS decision to take on as an adviser an opposition politician under investigation, and also ordered his arrest.
The announcement was the latest in a series of moves on anti-corruption efforts in Central America that have caused dismay inside the US government, which is attempting to get leaders in the region to redouble efforts to root out graft.
El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele said he would not work with the Organization of American States (OAS) to fight graft but would find some other international organization instead
US officials see corruption as one of the root causes of undocumented immigration, along with poverty and gang violence, and want to make sure some US$4 billion in aid pledged for the region does not fall prey to graft.
But some Central American leaders have been pushing back on the Biden administration's anti-corruption strategy.
On Thursday, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said that Ernesto Muyshondt, mayor of San Salvador between 2018 and 2021, is to become an adviser to his office, without giving details.
Muyshondt, a member of the right-wing ARENA party, and vocal critic of President Nayib Bukele, is under investigation by prosecutors over accusations that he made a deal benefiting gangs in exchange for votes in the 2014 presidential elections.
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Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado said he was breaking with the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES), which was created under Bukele in agreement with the OAS in September 2019, slamming Muyshondt's OAS role.
The president followed suit.
"We've decided the presidency is also going to break our agreement with the OAS CICIES because it's nonsense for us trying to fight impunity with the very people who are promoting impunity in El Salvador," Bukele said at a news conference.
Muyshondt has denied the allegations. On Friday afternoon, during a hearing attended by Muyshondt, a judge ordered him to be put under house arrest over the gangs case, authorities said.
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Not long after, Salvadoran police said they had arrested Muyshondt on charges linked to misappropriation of tax revenues.
Muyshondt, who had previously denied wrongdoing on the tax charges too, said on Twitter he was now a "political prisoner" of a "dictatorial and authoritarian regime" he had stood up to.
Bukele said he would not work with the OAS to fight graft but would find some other international organization instead.
"Something that, seeing how the waters are moving in the international community, and seeing all the rubbish and rot that's behind these institutions, will definitely be difficult, but we'll manage it," said the 39-year-old Bukele.
The US embassy in El Salvador expressed regret over the decision after Delgado's initial announcement.
"The fight against corruption is essential and fundamental. We will continue to look for ways to reduce and combat corruption and impunity," it said on its Twitter account. Washington donated US$2 million to CICIES in April.
The OAS office in El Salvador declined to comment.