New U.S. State Department report on corruption in Central America names Honduran congresspeople

On April 6, the U.S. State Department presented the U.S. Congress with a list of public officials from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador accused of corruption or drug trafficking. The six Honduran officials named in the report are current National Party congressional representatives. Five of these had been previously implicated in the MACCIH-UFECIC Arca Abierta (Open Vault) investigation, including Oscar Nájera, a congressional representative sanctioned by the United States and the United Kingdom for his involvement in high-level corruption.

By Jennifer Avila
Text by Martín Cálix

“Consistent with the requirements of section 7019(e), this report identifies the following persons in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador: senior government officials who are known to have committed or facilitated acts of ‘grand corruption’ or narcotics trafficking; elected officials known to have received campaign funds that are the proceeds of narco-trafficking or other illicit activities… and individuals known to have facilitated the financing of political campaigns in any of the Northern Triangle countries with the proceeds of narco-trafficking or other illicit activities in the last two years,” states the report submitted to the U.S. Congress earlier this year at the request of Congressperson Norma Torres. This document precedes the Engel List that the Biden administration expects to release later this year, and does not constitute any type of legal indictment. Instead, it is meant to be an admonition by the U.S. about government corruption in the Northern Triangle.

According to the report, “… the list includes individuals for whom the Department is aware of media reporting, credible information, or allegations of the conduct at issue.” The Hondurans named in the report are Juan Carlos Valenzuela Molina, Welsy Milena Vásquez López, Milton Jesús Puerto Oseguera, Gustavo Alberto Pérez, Óscar Nájera y Gladys Aurora López. All are congressional representatives with the National Party – the party led by current president Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been frequently named as a co-conspirator in several drug trafficking cases tried in the Southern District Court of New York. 

Section 1 of the report presents the allegations against Honduran senior government officials credibly alleged to have committed or facilitated corruption or narcotics trafficking.

MACCIH-OEA is the Organization of American States Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras. UFECIC is the Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Unit Against Impunity and Corruption.

Juan Carlos Valenzuela Molina, current member of the Honduran National Congress. Indicted in the Arca Abierta MACCIH-investigated corruption case for embezzling $800,000 from various government agencies. A court provisionally dismissed Valenzuela’s case in February 2019. 

Welsy Milena Vasquez Lopez, current member of the Honduran National Congress. Indicted in the Arca Abierta MACCIH-investigated corruption case for embezzling $800,000 from various government agencies. The case has not proceeded to trial.

Milton Jesus Puerto Oseguera, current member of the Honduran National Congress. Indicted in the Arca Abierta MACCIH-investigated corruption case for embezzling $800,000 from various government agencies. The case has not proceeded to trial.

Gustavo Alberto Perez, current member of the Honduran National Congress. Indicted in the Arca Abierta MACCIH-investigated corruption case for embezzling $800,000 from various government agencies. The case has not proceeded to trial. 

Oscar Najera, current member of the Honduran National Congress. Alleged ties to Cachiros narco-trafficking organization. Designated by the State Department under 7031( c) for significant corruption.

Gladys Aurora Lopez, member of the Honduran National Congress Executive Board. Indicted in the Area Abierta MACCIH-investigated corruption case for embezzling $800,000 from various government agencies.

Congressperson Oscar Nájera had been previously implicated under the United States’ Magnitsky Act, and the United Kingdom recently implicated Nájera under an international sanctioning mechanism similar to the Magnitsky Act, “due to his participation in significant acts of corruption.”

According to the Proceso Digital media outlet, “Oscar Ramón Nájera used his office to facilitate bribes to other public officials who collaborated with Los Cachiros, a major drug trafficking organization. This type of conduct seriously undermines the rule of law and confidence in Honduras’ public institutions. The sanctions include an asset freeze and travel ban, per a post on the UK’s official website.”

Contracorriente first reported on Congressperson Nájera’s suspicious activities in 2017. By then, he had been in office for 27 years. In the 2021 primary elections, he received the second most votes in the department of Colón. He is running for his ninth term in the National Congress, which he has turned into his personal fiefdom. This National Party congressperson has emerged unscathed from allegations of links to drug trafficking, and leads important legislative efforts like the commission to institute a law on free and informed prior consultation.

Read our 2017 report on Oscar Najera here (in Spanish).

The other congressional representatives named in the report have been previously investigated by the now-defunct MACCIH, shut down in 2019 by the National Congress. Contracorriente’s Vienna Herrera reported that these legislators pocketed US$83,333 from the Office of the President, US$125,000 from the National Congress, and US$666,000 from the Ministry of Finance in less than two months through money transfers to a Banco PROMERICA account belonging to the Green Planet Association (Asociación Planeta Verde), a sham non-governmental organization (NGO). According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, these funds were subsequently transferred to the personal accounts of the legislators and their alternates, as well as to relatives and third parties. The use of a sham NGO like Green Planet is similar to the Pandora Case, in which more than US$11.7 million embezzled from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock was channeled through NGOs to finance Liberal Party and National Party political campaigns and to pay off favors.

Congressperson Gladys Aurora López has also been implicated in a conflict over dams built by her husband, Arnold Castro, in indigenous territories without the required community consultations. She received the most votes in the primary elections for the department of La Paz, which virtually guarantees her reelection in the November 2021 general elections. Welsy Vásquez is running for reelection in the department of Cortés, but failed to win enough votes to secure her reelection in November and could lose the benefits of government impunity.

Two congressional representatives for the department of Lempira, Gustavo Alberto Pérez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela, are not contending for reelection this year, while Milton Jesús Puerto, a representative from the department of Yoro will compete in the general elections after having won the second-most votes in his department during the primaries.

On August 4, 2020, the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice issued a decision dismissing charges against those implicated in the MACCIH Arca Abierta case, including Juan Carlos Valenzuela, Gladys Aurora López, Welsy Vásquez, Milton Puerto and Gustavo Pérez.

After the United Kingdom sanctioned Óscar Nájera, he made a statement on April 28 publicly challenging “the United Nations, human rights and the entire world.” He claimed that all the accusations against him were false and despicable lies. “I submit myself to divine and earthly justice. I am an impeccably honest man who has worked in food production for more than 50 years,” said Nájera, according to the Once Noticias website.

In Honduras, all of these representatives were cleared of the MACCIH charges and are not currently facing any corruption charges.

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