Mexico’s former defense minister was arrested Thursday by U.S. authorities at the request of the DrugEnforcement Administration, senior Mexican officials said, the latest in a string of former senior officials linked to corruption linked to the drug.
General Salvador Cienfuegos, who served as a defender from 2012 to 2018 in the administration of President Enrique Pea Nietos, was arrested on his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote on Twitter.
General Cienfuegos was traveling with his family, the official added.
General Cienfuegos is the most senior Mexican official to be arrested for drug-related corruption. In the late 1990s, another top military leader, the drug czar General Jess Gutirrez Rebollo, was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison for accepting bribes from drug cartels. He died in 2013 in prison.
The arrest will give political impetus to Mexican President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador, who has based his political career on exposing corruption within Mexico’s political and economic elites. The arrest also raises serious concerns about the use of the Mexican military to fight drug gangs and comes less than a year after the detention of Genaro Garca Luna, former Mexican federal police chief. He led the country’s war on drug cartels during the administration of President Felipe Caldern.
Mr. Garca Luna was arrested in 2019 for being bribed by the Sinaloa Cartel to allow cocaine shipments to the United States and is in jail awaiting trial in New York.
In recent months, two senior lieutenants of Mr. Garca Luna have also been indicted in New York in connection with his case. Luis Crdenas Palomino and Ramn Pequeo, the former head of the Mexican Federal Police’s antinarcotics division, face similar charges for taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa cartel.
In exchange for multi-million dollar bribes, the defendants allegedly allowed the Sinaloa cartel to operate with impunity in Mexico, the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of New York City said in a statement. The two are currently fugitives, he added.
The three men were charged after information came to light during the New York trial of Joaqun El Chapo Guzmn, former Sinaloa cartel leader, in 2019, involving Mr. Garca Luna. During the trial, a witness said he handed Mr Garca Luna $ 3 million in cartel money in a suitcase, which Mr Garca Luna denied at the time.
Since 2005, violence in Mexico has skyrocketed, as heavily armed drug cartels waged war to take over lucrative smuggling roads and markets. An assault on the cartels ordered by President Caldern during his 2006-2012 term only led to more bloodshed, as the gangs broke up and waged ever more vicious turf wars. Over 200,000 people have died.
Since the 1960s, when Mexican army patrols began working to eradicate marijuana and poppy plantations, the Mexican military has been at the forefront of the country’s attack on the organized crime. The use of the military instead of professional police forces has raised concerns about the potential for corruption among the highest ranks of the Mexican military.
The arrest of Mr Cienfuegos for drug trafficking would be devastating for the Mexican military, said Ral Bentez, security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The army has become one of the main pillars of support for the government of President Lpez Obradors. Among other things, the military is playing a key role in the deployment of a new National Guard amid increasing criminal violence and has also been tasked with building a new airport for Mexico City.
It will demoralize them, said Benitez. The army had felt very empowered.
A former senior US defense official said he was surprised by the arrest. We have never had any indication of anything abnormal, the former official said. He has done everything possible to strengthen relations with the United States
Successive administrations, starting with Mr. Caldern, tried to constitute the federal police force, but the arrest of Mr. Garca Luna shows that the effort was also tainted.
Mr Ebrard said the Mexican consul in Los Angeles will offer consular assistance to General Cienfuegos and report on the charges that led to his arrest.
—Jos de Crdoba contributed to this article.
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