U.S. official voices concern over Guatemala, Salvadoran gang deal

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Dec 14 (Reuters) - The United States wants to see more action against corruption in Guatemala, a senior U.S. diplomat said Tuesday, expressing worries that anti-graft efforts there are stalling, and also signaling concern over alleged deals with gangs in El Salvador.

Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, made the comments during a call with reporters that focused on corruption in Latin America.

"We have big worries that the fight against corruption has not advanced as we would like," said Nichols. He stressed the need for "concrete steps against corrupt individuals and institutions" in Guatemala.

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In Central America's northern triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, rampant corruption is seen contributing to rising levels of U.S.-bound migration, along with other drivers including acute joblessness, gangland violence and natural disasters.

Nichols also pointed to U.S. Department of Justice investigations showing alleged deals between the government of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and at least one major gang.

Late last week, Reuters reported U.S. authorities are preparing criminal charges against Deputy Justice Minister Osiris Luna and Carlos Marroquin, the head of a government social welfare agency, in which the pair are accused of negotiating a secret truce with gangs. read more

Nichols said U.S. prosecutors "have revealed joint negotiations between government officials and the MS-13 criminal organization," adding the United States is "extremely worried" about the actions of the two implicated Salvadoran officials.

Last week, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on both men, accusing them of cutting a deal with the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and Barrio 18 gangs, in which the gangs would reduce violence in El Salvador and provide political backing in return for money and easier prison conditions. read more

Bukele has repeatedly denied his government negotiated any truce and denounced the sanctions.

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Reporting by David Alire Garcia and David Toro; Editing by Sam Holmes and Stephen Coates

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