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Exclusive: U.S. targets Central America officials for possible sanctions over corruption – envoy By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga holds a news conference during a two-day visit to the country, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria/File Photo

By Matt Spetalnick and Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration plans to release by the end of June a list of corrupt Central American officials who may be subject to sanctions, a U.S. envoy told Reuters, as Washington seeks to cut back on a root cause of increased migration to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Ricardo Zuniga, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, also said the administration was considering further sanctions against officials in the region for alleged graft under the Global Magnitsky Act.

U.S. officials see corruption as one of the main drivers for the flow of migrants, along with poverty, gang violence and the fallout from hurricanes last year, and want to make sure a $4 billion aid package being put together for the region does not fall prey to graft.

“That’s the mandate from Congress. We have a responsibility and we’re going to meet it,” Zuniga said in an interview on Wednesday. “That tracks with our commitment to defend those who are combating impunity.”

Zuniga was referring to a law sponsored by then-U.S. Representative Eliot Engel and enacted by Congress in December that requires the State Department to assemble within 180 days a so-called Engel List of corrupt actors in the Northern Triangle.

The administration, he said, would comply with that congressional requirement. Those targeted could then be subject to bans on travel to United States, seizing of U.S. property and prohibitions on Americans doing business with them. But he declined to name those who might be sanctioned.

Zuniga spoke just days ahead of a virtual meeting between Vice President Kamala Harris, tasked by President Joe Biden to lead diplomatic efforts to curb unauthorized migration, and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. She plans to visit Mexico and Guatemala on June 7 and 8.

Harris and Lopez Obrador are expected on Friday to discuss how to stem the movement of migrants, many of them from Central America, to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Among Harris’ initiatives is to try to get U.S. companies to invest more in the impoverished Northern Triangle.

Zuniga said a lot of U.S. firms are interested in doing more business in the region but that “there is investment hesitancy” because of local corruption, poor infrastructure and other problems.

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