Former Mexican Minister of Defense indicted in the United States for drug trafficking

Enrique Peña Nieto, then Mexican President, with Salvador Cienfuegos, in 2016 in Mexico City.

Never had a Mexican soldier of his rank been indicted in the United States for drug trafficking. Revealed on Friday, October 16, the indictment against Salvador Cienfuegos, former defense minister from 2012 to 2018, had the effect of a bomb in Mexico. The 72-year-old general, who led the bloody war against organized crime, is accused by the American authorities of having protected a cartel, revealing the extent of mafia infiltration within the highest authorities of the Mexican state .

It was when he got off the plane that Mr. Cienfuegos was arrested, Thursday, October 15, at Los Angeles airport in California, where he was preparing to spend a family vacation. Under an arrest warrant from the American Anti-Drug Agency (DEA), the retired officer is targeted by four counts of criminal association for the purpose of producing, importing into the United States and distributing of drugs between 2015 and 2017, while he was in office. He is also accused of money laundering on behalf of the H-2 cartel, heir to the mafia organization of the Beltran Leyva brothers, a dissident faction of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.

On Friday, Mr. Cienfuegos attended a first hearing in Los Angeles, which lasted less than five minutes, to notify him of his indictment, before a next meeting scheduled for October 20. He should be transferred to New York, where the Brooklyn court accuses him of having abused his office to pass a ton of marijuana and kilos of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines, to the United States. The one DEA investigators nicknamed “El Padrino” (the godfather) also informed the cartel of the investigations carried out by the American agency.

The mistrust of the United States towards the Mexican government

These revelations shake Mexico. Mr. Cienfuegos led the fight against drugs under the tenure of the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Its record is criticized, with more than 125,000 homicides in six years. Mr. Cienfuegos also covered human rights violations committed by his soldiers. At the head, the massacre, in 2014, in Tlatlaya, in the State of Mexico, of a dozen suspected drug traffickers after their surrender.

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The same year, Mr. Cienfuegos had refused to collaborate in the investigation into the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa (State of Guerrero), despite the evidence of the presence of the army during the tragedy. Not to mention, under his ministry, the escape, in 2015, of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel. Arrested the following year, then extradited to the United States, “El Chapo” was sentenced, in 2019, to life imprisonment by the Brooklyn court during a resounding trial which revealed mafia corruption within the ‘Mexican State.

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