Selective implementation of anti-corruption measures in US foreign policy
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(14 March 2020) — I have been thinking for a while to revisit the importance of anti-corruption strategy in US foreign policy and how it has been implemented. It led me to re-read an article I wrote in 2005 on the subject. My article, “Anti-corruption strategy in US foreign policy” (Jamaica Observer, Aug. 28, 2005) drew attention to the objective of anti-corruption policy as an element of president George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy. As I noted then, “One fundamental premise of US national security policy is that there exist a nexus between corruption, on the one hand, and terrorism and international transnational organized crime on the other.” While anti-corruption policies of subsequent US administrations have remained a fundamental element of US foreign policy, it has been used more selectively to target political leaders and other actors whose behavior US administrations find abhorrent.
My conclusion almost 15 years hence, is that US anti-corruption policy has not been implemented consistently and impartially. Succeeding US administrations have ignored the rise of corruption in selected countries with far greater implications for good governance and rule of law globally. There has been a lack of consistency and transparency in implementing the strategy and very little has changed in the corruption matrix. In the meantime, recent corrupt practices in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the hemisphere have triggered an intense debate about corruption. Thus, establishing a historical context is necessary.
A year after the September 11, 2001 terrorists attack on the United States, president George W. Bush introduced “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” (Sept. 2002) with references to corruption, which from a crime and security perspective I believed to be fundamentally sound. President Bush said, “Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers … (but) poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.” According to the US president, as part of his national security strategy, the US would use its “economic engagement with other countries to underscore the benefits of policies that generate higher productivity and sustained economic growth, including: rule of law and intolerance of corruption….” In ensuing years, it became apparent that the Bush administration intended to enforce the anti-corruption element of the national security strategy, as it embarked upon a program to streamline good governance, including anti-corruption, in its foreign policy initiatives in the developing world.
In January 2005, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) issued the USAID Anti-corruption Strategy which incorporated specific anti-corruption programs beyond administrative corruption, that is, corruption among mid- and low-level government officials, to encompass what it termed ‘grand corruption’ – exchanges of resources or access to competitive advantage for high-level officials, privileged firms, and their networks of elite operatives and supporters. The USAID strategy document identified its anti-corruption fight as an important US foreign policy objective and concluded that fighting corruption is fundamental to advancing US foreign policy interests. A few months later, inconsistencies in commitment were apparent.
In early April 2005, I browsed the USAID website to see which countries were the focus of its anti-corruption programs. I was pleased to see US$1 million earmarked for anti-corruption programs in Jamaica. By the end of April, the funding earmarked for Jamaica had disappeared from the USAID website. My enquiries to the USAID revealed that a decision had been take to divert those funds to undefined more pressing needs elsewhere.
Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, perhaps unaware that those funds would not be available to the Jamaican government to fight corruption, convened a meeting in May 2005 with the heads of public sector agencies to discuss how they plan to counter corruption within their organizations. I noted in my referenced article that this meeting had followed closely on reports of watchdog agencies on the problems they faced in fighting corruption under existing Jamaican laws. At the time, prime minister Patterson seemed to have embarked on an important initiative which was in keeping with US anti-corruption strategy that would receive US support. Re-directing the anti-corruption funding from Jamaica denied the Jamaican government of important anti-corruption assistance belying the Bush administration’s declared anti-corruption objectives.
The Bush administration anti-corruption strategy was supported by the US Congress which specified anti-corruption measures in its foreign aid budgets and other related legislation. The annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act provides the Secretary of State with authority to deny visas to individuals in cases where the Secretary has “credible information that foreign officials have been involved in significant corruption or gross violations of human rights, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.” The Secretary is required to publicly or privately designate such officials and their family members and deny them US visas. Family members affected are spouses and children, including minor children.
Also, in July 2005, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a Bill aimed at helping countries weed out corruption involving multilateral loan projects. With the Secretary of State authorized to make the determinations, succeeding US administrations have used designations to further its foreign policy objectives and punish those with whom there is disagreement. Corruption in governments acting in accord with succeeding administrations are often overlooked.
In enacting the Global Magnitsy Human Rights and Accountability Act (Dec. 23, 2016) (Magnitsky Act),** the US Congress sought to enforce US anti-corruption policies on a global scale, while targeting specific individuals and governments. The Act made visa sanctions mandatory on those foreign individuals determined by the President to be engaged in human rights violations and corrupt activities.
Fast forward to the Trump administration. In a pre-International Anti-corruption Day briefing on December 04, 2019, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned of intensifying the use of visa bans as an anti-corruption deterrent in Latin America and globally. The Secretary said: “I want to make it clear today that corrupt leaders and former leaders in the hemisphere need to take note that we will be much more aggressively using these anti-corruption visa authorities in coming weeks and months, which will cut off their travel and their family’s travel to the United States and publicly name and shame them.” The Secretary warned of denying immediate family members who benefit from ill-gotten gains opportunities to shop and vacation, as well as access to ‘prestigious studies’, in the US. Denial of visas to foreign government officials and their immediate family members who are involved in significant acts of corruption is one of the measures used by the US to fight corruption.
Visa denials along with economic measures, such as assets freeze and denial of use of the US financial system, have been applied against corrupt officials in Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere. These sanctions measures have been imposed against Venezuelan and Nicaraguan officials in furtherance of US foreign and security policies against the governments of Nicolás Maduro (Venezuela) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua). While public designation of these officials serve to put pressure on offensive regimes, the situation with the Dominican Republic, a friendly state, is somewhat of an anomaly.
Under the authority of the Magnitsky Act, the Secretary, on June 12, 2018, publicly designated Dominican Republic Senator Felix Ramon Bautista Rosario “due to his involvement in significant corruption.” Bautista is alleged to have engaged in corrupt practices through contracts of his five companies engaged in post-earthquake Haiti – rebuilding Haiti projects. The Secretary also publicly designated the senator’s spouse and children, including his minor children.
The Secretary identified corruption as threatening the national security of the United States, and identified three significant effects of corruption globally. According to the Secretary, corruption undermines democracy by stoking cynicism about the integrity of politics, causing citizens to lose faith in government officials and institutions; stifles economies because when powerful interests capture a country’s public resources for private gain, they undermine the drivers of economic growth such as financial stability, investment, public services, and disposable income; and promotes criminality by facilitating a variety of other crimes such as drugs and weapons trafficking and allowing criminal organizations to operate with impunity. No one will argue with the premise that these consequences of corruption are the general drivers of anti-corruption advocacy.
I highlighted in my 2005 article a UN Development Program (UNDP) 2004 Anti-Corruption Practice Note which pointed out that “evidence across the globe confirms that corruption impacts the poor disproportionately” and that “corruption hinders economic development, reduces social services, and diverts investments in infrastructure, institutions and social services.” The UNDP further concluded that corruption “fosters an undemocratic environment characterized by uncertainty, unpredictability, and declining moral values and disrespect for constitutional institutions and authority.”
As I wrote then, action to root out corruption in Caribbean societies should not be seen merely as satisfying US national security strategy concerns, or to avoid losing US and other international foreign economic assistance. Rooting out corruption serves the public good. The debilitating effects of corruption are painfully experienced across the Caribbean and the hemisphere. Thus, anti-corruption debates must lead to concrete actions by governments across the region to stamp out corruption in Caribbean societies.
© 2020 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
**Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act:
The President may impose the sanctions described in subsection (b) with respect to any foreign person the President determines, based on credible evidence –
(3) is a government official, or senior associated of such an official, that is responsible for, or complicit in, ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, acts of significance corruption, including the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions; or
(4) has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods and services in support of, an activity escribed in paragraph (3).
(b) SANCTIONS DESCRIBED. –The sanctions described in this subsection are the following:
(1) INADMISSIBILITY TO UNITED STATES. –In the case of a foreign person who is an individual–
(A) ineligibility to receive a visa to enter the United States or to be admitted to the United States; or
(B) if the individual has been issued a visa or other documentation, revocation, in accordance with section 221(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1201(i), of the visa documentation.