The former president of El Salvador, Tony Saca, was arrested Saturday on charges ranging from money laundering to illicit enrichment. Six other government officials from his time in office were also arrested as part of the corruption probe.
Mr. Saca, who held office from 2004 to 2009, is the third former president of the Central American nation to have been subjected to recent investigations in relation to corruption.
The pursuit of justice against those accused of abusing their power reflects a wider trend throughout Latin America, where the public is losing patience with corruption and demanding greater accountability and transparency.
Saca, along with two other high-ranking officials from his former government, is under investigation because he has apparently been unable to explain the origins of $5 million in assets he acquired during his presidency. He was arrested at his son's wedding.
Another of those arrested, Saca’s former private secretary, Elmer Charlaix, faces similar charges over $5.8 million in private bank accounts.
Former President Mauricio Funes, Saca’s successor, in power until 2014, is also being investigated over corruption charges and has taken asylum in Nicaragua. Francisco Flores, Saca’s predecessor, died in January while awaiting trial on charges of diverting $15 million of aid money for earthquake victims.
El Salvador is far from alone in Latin America in seeking to uncover public corruption and hold perpetrators to account, no matter their position or social standing. The trend suggests that a new stand is being taken in the region, a period in which corruption by public officials receives far less tolerance.
“Corruption scandals have exploded across Latin America in recent years,” wrote Kevin Casas-Zamora, former vice president of Costa Rica, and Miguel Carter, director of a political research center in Paraguay, in April. “From Brazil to Mexico, revelations of corruption have led to large demonstrations, prosecutions of government officials and business executives at the highest level, and acute political crises.”
Perhaps the most widely publicized of these cases in recent months has been the two-pronged investigation in Brazil, exposing pervasive political corruption in relation to the nation’s oil giant, Petrobras, while also impeaching the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, on unrelated charges.
Yet some analysts point to examples in countries with less deeply-rooted democracies and recent histories of civil conflict, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, as examples of just how far this movement against corruption is spreading.
“It’s one thing for Brazil or Chile, with a longer history of strong institutions, to investigate the powerful and put them in jail,” wrote Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, earlier this year. “But Guatemala? A country that just 20 years ago was in the throes of civil war?”
And what is it driving this shift? Surveys, such as Vanderbilt University’s AmericasBarometer, indicate that corruption itself may actually be on the decline, driven by changes in the “social, political and economic context in which corruption takes place,” as Mr. Casas-Zamora and Mr. Carter put it.
They go on to list factors such as the explosion of social media, a more politically active middle class, and a growing perception that institutions have been rigged in favor of elites.
“Something truly historic is happening in Latin America today,” writes Mr. Winter. “These changes are occurring even in the hemisphere’s most fragile countries.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.