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Corruption, irregularities and discrimination against LGBTQ community in U.S. Salvadoran consulates

Irregularities range from workplace harassment to two job titles held by a member of the consular representation: one of as consul and another one as minister adviser to the Embassy in Washington DC.

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Corruption, irregularities and discrimination against LGBTQ community in U.S. Salvadoran consulates

Corruption, irregularities and discrimination against LGBTQ community in U.S. Salvadoran consulates

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Criticism of the services provided by El Salvador's consulates in the United States is not new; however, in recent months they have increased. Two consular offices and their general consuls are marked by users and employees for discrimination, irregularities, corruption and labor harassment.

The criticism also reaches Ambassador Milena Mayorga who took office two months ago and who has been seen handing out groceries baskets or campaigning politically for the Nuevas Ideas party, within the U.S. territory.

The consulates listed, are two of the East Cost of the country: Silver Spring, Maryland, located in the vicinity of the Washington DC metropolitan area, and Brentwood, in Long Island New York. Both consulates are in areas of higher concentration of Salvadorans nationals.

On January 29, Ruby Corado, a transgender woman, director of Casa Ruby, one of the largest support and accompaniment organizations in Washington DC for the LGBTQ community, went to the Silver Spring consulate to renew her Salvadoran passport.

"It was a long time ago since the last day I was discriminate-against like that. The Salvadoran consulate, for you to see, is a disgrace. But I was quiet, I did not say anything, I let them outrage me, discriminate against me. I said: I am going to come out here with my passport. They did what they wanted to do with me, from the entrance until they took my picture", Ruby said in a live video that she shared on her social media.

Four days earlier, a few miles from the Salvadoran consulate, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to declare that all kind of discrimination is illegal in the United States and to extend anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community across the country.

Ruby, who is also one of the strongest Latino activists in the fight for the defense of her community's rights, said consulate employees mocked her, laughed at her and placed her in a vulnerable position because of her identity.

At Washington DC and counties around Maryland, the LGBTQ community and culture is heavily influenced by the country's federal government, strong non-governmental organizations, and sexual and cultural diversity protection policies.

In fact, the consulate is a couple of miles from the Dupont Circle area, a recognized area of the gay and LGBTQ community of the American capital, where bars, shops, restaurants and establishments that support and embrace the sexual diversity of Washingtonians are located.

"They saw me as if I was a leper. Did not they tell you there are thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in America? In Washington, there are hundreds of the transgender community, thousands of the gay, lesbian communities, who are citizens of El Salvador and deserve respect. And that is what they do in El Salvador, that is why people are running away, they have been fighting for their lives, because in El Salvador they treat us like this", Corado, clearly upset said.

But that was not the worse thing that happen that day.

"When I was handed out the passport... a man handed over the passport and handed me a little piece of paper that says, “This is trans person, you got to call him by his last name”. In my country there is no sexual identity law, but where you are there is a sexual identity law, there are laws that protect me and you are breaking that law," Ruby continued.  

According to the activist, the problem is not that this has happened only to her; but the consulate employees had treated in the past members of the LGTBQ community who needed access to their services in this way, thus perpetuating discrimination and violating the rights of this group, even in a country that does have a sexual identity law.

"They (government officials) paint El Salvador as a great democratic country and sell it as an example, but there will never be a democracy, if they do not respect human rights, the gender identity of the gay community. People are not clowns, we are not fifth class citizens. The LGBTQ community deserves an apology (from the consulate). The Latino community deserves an apology", Corado said.

Jackie Reyes Yanes, a Salvadoran community leader, noted that such services provided by consulates and embassies in any state county of jurisdiction in the United States should not be limited by elements of discrimination, because this goes against respect for human rights and respect for laws that have been established in the countries where they operate.

"Many of the LGBTQ community members who are part of the Salvadoran diaspora in the United States fled the country because of the siege and constant discrimination against to which they were systematically subjected to in their country," Reyes Yanes told to La Prensa Grafica.

La Prensa Grafica requested Consul Pedro Rodríguez for reactions to this complaint, but at the close of this note there was no response.

Irregularities

According to article 5th of The Law of the Consular Service of El Salvador,  a person in the positions of general consul inspector, general consul, consul and attache consul, must "preferably be a person belonging to the consular career", with studies in jurisprudence, social sciences, international law, among others.

In addition, in Article 18(2) and (3) of the same law, it provides that the general consuls "registered in the Consular Escalafón... they must have served" - in the consular career - for at least three years.

Henry Paul Salgado Barrientos is one of the officials appointed out and heavily criticized. Salgado, according to several Salvadorans nationals, residents from Long Island, who spoke to La Prensa Gráfica, under anonymity, came to the position of consul for being a close friend of Salvador Gomez Gochez, current president of PROESA, a close friend and ally of President Nayib Bukele.

Also, Bukele and his wife, the first lady, Gabriela Rodriguez, are the godparents of Gomez Gochez’s son.

Gomez Gochez was a member of the Salvadoran diaspora group that funded economically Bukele's campaign and organized several rallies to introduce then-candidate Bukele in New York and Washington DC, along with other entrepreneurs. Salgado joined Gochez, in the activities while campaigning in Long Island

"All of us who knew Henry, knew also that he has not prepare, that he would not have the slightest educational background to be consul and he was only designated for that position only because of being friends with this Mr. Gomez Gochez. I have known him for a long time, I do not think that he even finished high school”, said a Salvadoran resident of Long Island who works with civil organizations around the city.

On Long Island, many Salvadorean residents that have worked with the community or civil organizations say they know of Salgado's questionable reputation; yet no one dares to point out the questions publicly.

No web site, neither the Chancellery of El Salvador, nor that of the Salvadoran Consulate in Brentwood, has available information about its academic preparation or the competences of Consul Salgado and much less of his career in the consular service.

There is also no information available, regarding to the education background from Silver Spring Consul Pedro Rodríguez Herrera, who also appears as Minister Counsellor of the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington DC. Both web site has not been updating since May 2019.

According to section 30th of the Law of the Consular Service of El Salvador, the official in the position of minister counsel, can not be at the same time consul. A consul may be promoted to minister counsellor, but there must be a process and the Chancellery must submit the official to an assessment to determine whether the official is eligible or not.

Consul Rodriguez told to La Prensa Grafica about both positions, that "this information is only handled by the honorable ambassador", Milena Mayorga. At the close of this article, the request for information to the El Salvador Embassy in Washington DC with questions on this subject and the irregularities at the consulates were not answered.

Neither in the web site of the Salvadorean Chancellery, nor the portal of Transparency, is there information of Henry Salgado or Pedro Rodríguez. There is also no information on Rodriguez's position as minister counsellor. There is also no information about Rodríguez's position as Minister Counselor or Villatoro's departure.

Surprisingly, this week, Rodríguez was introduced as the new consul general for the Los Angeles consulate in California. Cindy Portales, Deputy Foreign Minister, told the Los Angeles Times that the appointment was in response to the sudden departure of Consul Alicia Villatoro.

A week ago, La Prensa Grafica also requested information from the Chancellery of El Salvador in this regard; however, there was no response.

Corruption in Long Island

Last December, a group of employees at Brentwood's Long Island consular headquarters filed a complaint with the El Salvador Prosecutor's Office, against Consul Henry Salgado, for having conducted a "conduct that borders criminal offenses."

According to the testimony of employees of the consular headquarters, Salgado used and appropriated resources from the Salvadoran State administered by the Consulate. In addition, he has committed job harassment against those employees who have denounced irregulars’ activities and the use of financial funds for personal expenses.

According to the document presented to the Prosecutor's Office and according to reports that employees claim to have sent to the Chancellery in El Salvador, Salgado got embezzled and used $10,438.3 to pay for "services to family members circle", to hire irregular vehicle insurance and to pay bills for personal cell phones.

One of the employees, who asked to keep his identity for fear that the retaliation taken by Consul Salgado would increase, told La Prensa Gráfica that, according to documentation of internal audits carried out at the consulate, everything suggests that the consul planned to use this modality of embezzlement during his term to divert more funds for his own benefit.

Employees say that they have informed the Chancellery and that, in December, before presenting the document to the Prosecutor's Office in El Salvador, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent an official "to clean up the documents" of the audit to protect Salgado.

In addition, according to the employees, all documentation sent to the Chancellery in El Salvador contains copies of invoices and checks that shows the irregularities and corruption attributed to Salgado. These employees point out that the consul did not follow the internal procedure of making out payments and issued checks without the corresponding signatures.

Last January, the lawyer representing the consulate's employees, Luis Orantes, confirmed to Radio YSUCA that the Court of Auditors of El Salvador is aware of the audit performed at the Long Island Consulate and that Salgado issued unauthorized checks without the signatures required by the internal consulate process for the use of public financials funds from the Consulate.

Consulate employees say that after reporting irregularities as established by domestic law to the Chancellery and Chancellor Alejandra Hill, the assaults and harassment against them initiated. The Chancellery never give them an answer.

"Insults, verbal aggressions, denigrations began, and we are afraid because he (the consul) knows where we live, we found that he had hidden a camera in one of the offices and that creates a stressful workplace environment. We had a responsibility to report corruption that is happening at the consulate and so we did", one of the employees says.

Shortly after the complaints, employees who reported the irregularities received got transfer notifications. According to one of them, none of the three have complied with it, because they consider the action to be an arbitrary act, in retaliation for the complaint they filed and hope that, in the lawsuit process, they will be resolving this matter in their favor and they can remain in their jobs on Long Island.

One of these employees, who served as EDAF's financial affairs commission, would be transferred to the Silver Spring Consulate in Maryland. However, "he did not show up because we are waiting for the process", the employee said.

According to an internal mail, after the transfer, Consul Rodríguez of Silver Spring directly requested the Chancellery to remove the worker. "We believe this is also in retaliation for the complaint and the process we have", the consular member said.

Covid-19 contagion research at the consulate

Within a year of his mandate, Consul Salgado has filed up a list of complaints against him, an investigation by US authorities of Health of The Suffolk County for breaking the rules taken during the coronavirus pandemic throughout the state of New York, one of the most affected and with the most cases in the whole country.

At the end of November, Consul Salgado told consulate users that between November 30th and December 8th, the Brentwood Consulate would issue passports to all Salvadorans nationals who show up at the consular headquarters facility, even if they did not have all the documents that the law has established to obtain the passport.

The video was posted on social media. "You can all come, so you do not have ID (DUI a personal identification). So, suppose your birth certificate is old or your passport is lost. An immigration group is coming to support us on Long Island, where all those who for years have not been able to get a passport because they lost the documents. This occasion is something special," Salgado said.

Salvadoran nationals’ users posted videos and photographs on social media platforms of the heavily crowed spaces in the consulate office in Long Island. Some Salvadorean residents pointed to the lack of compliance with the social distancing rules established in the whole country.

A month later, health authorities reported the investigation at the consulate and discussed a temporary closure of the consular headquarters for non-compliance with state rules.

In addition, it was confirmed that 11 people who had arrived at the consulate to entourage from Salvadorean Immigration and Foreign Affairs Office from El Salvador were positive to Covid-19. The consulate and Consul Salgado refused to give statements to the local media in this regard.

Consul Salgado did not respond when he was reach out to get a comment from him to make an statement in this regard.

Political campaigning in embassy

"The Vienna Convention defines who the ambassador is. The ambassador is the legal representative of a country. This person should know about politics, economics, international law, international relations, how to strengthen relations between countries and those obligations are not about going to have tea with someone or partying in the country" explains Guillermo García Machado, former chief of Venezuela's diplomatic representation in Washington DC.

The Vienna Convention established by the United Nations (UN) establishing the rules of diplomacy between member countries dictates that an ambassador and the consuls should "represent, negotiate, observe, protect and promote" relations between the country it represents, its citizens and the country in which it is located.

"The most important thing about the ambassador to Washington is that it represents the people and government of El Salvador in the United States, before the government, for The US Congress, and for any civil society and state organization, entity, or several organizations. The ambassador is the bearer and promoter of Salvadorans’ interests and of maintaining a mutually beneficial bilateral agenda," former Washington DC Salvadoran ambassador René León says.

Ambassador Milena Mayorga, who left-footed her management when she generated controversy and outrage among the TPS holders (tepesianos) in the United States, saying that "the agenda in Washington is to explain to our country people that our president is creating the conditions for their return," remains in the midst of criticism.

Members of the TPS National Alliance say that so far and although they have officially requested an appointment with the ambassador Mayorga to discuss the lobbying issue in favor of the TPS holders, but there had not have any responses from her half yet. "We haven't had any responses," confirmed Mardoel Hernandez, a member of the TPS Alliance.

According to the former ambassador, the ambassador must also be responsible for "finding common grounds" and benefits for all parties, in Immigration matters. Leon, also said that it is the ambassador's obligation, due to the number of Salvadorans residing in the United States, to "seek an immigration agenda, as a key priority."

Ambassador Mayorga has spent part of her time  posting videos and messages on social media asking  for a vote in favor of Nuevas Ideas (President Bukele´s party) campaigning for President Nayib Bukele and encouraging divisive discourse among Salvadorans.

"Those deputies that we are going to take out on 28th February (deputies of ARENA and FMLN) pushed out our best people expelling them for more than 35 years and never did anything to change those realities. Those deputies always have seen our diaspora as the remittances senders and came here to the United States to have big dinners to collect money for their campaigns”, Mayorga said in the main video of his Facebook page.

According to García Machado, members of the diplomatic representation of any country should refrain from any political activity first because "the environment in which the embassies are located belongs to another country" and second because the ambassador represents the country and its citizens, but not the interests of a particular party or politician.

The Venezuelan former representative set as an example the expulsion of the “Chavista” ambassador, Vladimir Villegas, in Mexico who was expelled from Mexican territory in 2005 and to which President Vicente Fox, withdrew his diplomatic accreditations for proselytizing and campaigning in the country in favor of Hugo Chavez.

Article 184 of the Electoral Code of El Salvador expressly states that "no official, civil servant or employee, public employee may use his office to make partisan politics. Nor will they be able to make political propaganda in any way."

"It's not your role to be handing out charity baskets or handing out gifts. That is an activity that any Salvadorean diplomatic official should be doing in the United States, including the ambassador or consular officials. The mission is to represent the interests of the country and Salvadorans citizen," Ambassador Leon said.

The former ambassador said that such actions only reflect the ambassador's lack of knowledge to address strategic issues such as Immigration matters or to attend to the functions that the office dictates. In addition, the former ambassador noted that the ambassador's actions at this time are using the Salvadoran community to make "an extension of the official party's political campaign," which is illegal.

La Prensa Grafica requested to the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington DC for a comment on this delicate issue and regarding  the complaints against the Consulates of Brentwood, Long Island and Silver Spring, Maryland, but there was no response.

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