Removal of Salvadoran judges, prosecutor unconstitutional, U.S. special envoy says

Ricardo Zuniga, U.S. President Joe Biden's special envoy for the Northern Triangle, speaks with the media after a TV interview in San Salvador, El Salvador May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The U.S. special envoy for Central America met El Salvador's president, Nayib Bukele, during a visit to reiterate that Washington considers the recent removal of top judges and the attorney general to be unconstitutional.

Ricardo Zuniga, the special envoy for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said he had a "cordial meeting" with Bukele on Tuesday after seeing senior congressional lawmakers.

"Our point of view is that the decision of May 1 was not in accordance with the law, nor with the constitution, nor with the legal procedure of the constitution," Zuniga said in a news conference in San Salvador, the capital.

He warned that a lack of judicial independence would affect the investment climate in the country and said he would discuss "next steps" with the White House, State Department and U.S. Congress on his return to Washington.

During a previous visit to El Salvador, Bukele declined to meet Zuniga.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has identified corruption, lack of judicial independence and weak rule of law as important root causes of migration from Central America.

El Salvador's Congress, which is now dominated by lawmakers aligned with Bukele, on May 1 voted to remove all five supreme court judges from office.

Early the next day, Congress voted to remove El Salvador's attorney general.

"The right thing to do, the best thing, would be to return to a situation aligned with the constitution ... it will send messages of legal security both for citizens and people who want to make investments in El Salvador," Zuniga added.

On the trip Zuniga also met with opposition politicians, civil society officials and the private sector.

El Salvador's government released a statement on Tuesday saying Bukele and Zuniga discussed migration from Central America, but it was later taken down from its social media platforms.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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