WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday (Jul 20) it would bar visits by former Honduran president Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo due to alleged bribes from drug traffickers as it steps up pressure over corruption in Central America.
Lobo, who led Honduras from 2010 to 2014, will be ineligible to enter the United States, along with his wife Rosa Elena Bonilla Avila and their children, "due to involvement in significant corruption," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"Their corrupt acts undermined the stability of Honduras' democratic institutions," Blinken said in a statement.
"These designations reaffirm US commitment to combating the corruption and disregard for the rule of law that hinders progress in Honduras."
Blinken said Lobo accepted bribes from narcotraffickers Los Cachiros in exchange for political favors. Lobo has repeatedly denied such allegations.
The former first lady was sentenced to 58 years in prison in 2019 over fraud and misappropriation of public funds although she was freed within months after a court ordered a retrial over judicial errors.
President Joe Biden's administration has vowed to make the fight against corruption a major international priority, especially in Central America.
Biden officials see graft - along with poverty, violence and climate change - as a contributing factor to the flight of thousands of Central Americans who are seeking safety in the United States, a major political issue in Washington.
The incumbent president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was named as a co-conspirator in the trial by a US court of his brother, who in March was given a sentence of life in prison over drug trafficking.
Lobo pointed to his successor as he attacked US accusations against him earlier this month when he was also put on the State Department's so-called Engel list of corrupt players.
"What do we all know? That the most corrupt person in the history of Honduras is named Juan Orlando Hernandez and he isn't on this list. So what legitimacy can this list have?" Lobo told Radio America.