CITY OF MEXICO (AP) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday that his ambassador to the United States had told him two weeks ago that an investigation was under way involving a former Mexican defense minister who had been arrested in Thursday in Los Angeles.
The arrest of former Mexico’s defense minister, retired General Salvador Cienfuegos, on drug and money laundering charges has shaken one of Mexico’s few trustworthy institutions.
Cienfuegos was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday at the request of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He was the best military officer in Mexico during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto from 201
Lopez Obrador said on Friday that the arrest of Cienfuegos was “unfortunately”.
He said he had been told that the charges against Cienfuegos would be announced in the United States on Friday afternoon, but he confirmed that this was related to alleged drug trafficking.
He said there was no drug investigation into Cienfuegos in Mexico. He said Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena, had told him two weeks ago that there was talk of an investigation involving Cienfuegos, but nothing specific.
“This is an unequivocal example of the disintegration of the government, of how the civil service is deteriorating, the civil service during the neoliberal period,” Lopez Obrador said.
He proposed a vote of confidence in the current military leaders, claiming that the leaders of the army and navy were “incorruptible”.
On Thursday night, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote on his Twitter account that US Ambassador Christopher Landau had informed him of the arrest of the retired general and that Cienfuegos was entitled to consular assistance. A US official familiar with the case said the order was for drug trafficking and money laundering.
A senior Mexican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details of the case, said Cienfuegos had been arrested when he arrived at Los Angeles airport with his family. His family members were released and he was taken to the capital’s detention center.
Mexico’s reliance on its army has grown only under Lopez Obrador. He has entrusted him not only to lead the government’s ongoing fight against drug cartels, but also to stop frantic fuel thefts, build major infrastructure projects and be the backbone of the new, supposedly civilian, National Guard.
Lopez Obrador was to visit the site of the new airport built for the capital on Friday morning. It rises on a military base and the president instructs the army to build it.
While Lopez Obrador talks daily about corruption, which is at the root of all of Mexico’s problems, the biggest catch of his term so far has crossed the border into the United States.
Cienfuegos, 72, is the second former Mexican cabinet official to be arrested in the United States on drug charges in the past year.
Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested last year in Texas on drug trafficking charges. U.S. prosecutors say he took tens of millions of dollars in bribes to defend Joaquin El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel. He was Mexico’s state security minister from 2006 to 2012 under then-president Felipe Calderon. Earlier this month, he pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges in a federal court in New York.
Under Cienfuegos, Mexico continued to wage war against the drug cartels launched during Calderon’s time. Guzman was captured twice while Cienfuegos was in command – in 2014 and 2016, but the army was not directly involved in either. At the time, it was rumored that the DEA had more confidence in Mexico’s Marines to act on the most sensitive intelligence.
A Colombian drug trafficker testified at the beginning of last year during the American trial against Guzman that the king boasted of paying a bribe of 100 million dollars to Pena Nieto to stop the hunt for him. Penya Nieto’s spokesman denied the accusation.
The Mexican Ministry of Defense did not respond immediately to the arrest of Cienfuegos.
AP writer Stephanie Dazio of Los Angeles contributed to this report.