MEXICO – A former Mexican defense minister was arrested Thursday night after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport with his family, according to the Mexican government, becoming the first high-ranking military official to be detained in the United States for corruption. drug-related in his country.
A former official, General Salvador Cienfuegos, who served as Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, has been arrested by U.S. officials at the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration and faces charges of drug and money laundering in the United States, according to a New York law enforcement official. .
This news not only reflects on the country’s fight against organized crime, but also highlights the forces of corruption that affect the highest levels of the Mexican government. The arrest of General Cienfuegos could also cause chills over the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
“Mexico has never had an arrested defense minister,” said Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister. “The Minister of Defense in Mexico is a guy who not only leads the army and is in the military, but he reports directly to the president. There is no one above him but the president. “
The exact charges against General Cienfuegos were not immediately clear, and officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration did not respond to requests for comment.
General Cienfuegos served as defense minister at a time when killings had skyrocketed and drug cartels were at war.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Alejandro Madraso, a professor at CIDE, a university in Mexico City. “The military has become more corrupt and much more brutal since the declaration of war on drugs, and for the first time they may not be inviolable – but not the Mexican government, but the American government.”
The Mexican military has played a central role in national security since countering drug cartels began in 2006, deploying troops to regions covered by organized crime. The Minister of Defense oversees these efforts.
Suspicions of corruption in the Mexican military have long emerged in private conversations. Repression against corruption has led to the arrest of politicians, police and even an official who has been blamed for a drug strategy that has sparked a war on drugs.
But the military had extraordinary autonomy, rarely succumbing to political pressure and, as a rule, enjoying the protection of the president, who relied on them for the country’s internal defense.
Because the military is at the center of the fight against drug trafficking, the Mexican government has never created an effective police force. The use of soldiers who are trained in combat but do not guard the police has caused their own problems.
The military has repeatedly been convicted of human rights abuses and excessive use of force, including allegations of extrajudicial killings that haunted the armed forces throughout General Cienfuegos’s tenure as defense minister.
But no high-ranking Mexican military official has been accused of money laundering or drug trafficking. Such accusations will represent a new front in the fight against corruption and the extraordinary power of organized crime in Mexico.
A previous major case in the fight against drug-related corruption in Mexico was in December 2019, when US authorities arrested Genaro Garcia Luna, a former public security secretary and architect of the national cartel war. He was accused of working for one of the cartels he was pursuing.
The arrest of General Cienfuegos did not appear to be a joint operation with the Mexican government. Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that it was only on Thursday evening that the US ambassador announced that the former defense minister had been taken into custody.
Natalia Kitroev submitted reports.