MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Friday that his ambassador to the United States told him two weeks ago that there was an investigation being conducted there involving former Mexican defense secretary , who was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles.
The arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister, retired Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, on drug charges and money laundering shook one of the few Mexican institutions that maintains people’s confidence.
Cienfuegos was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday at the request of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He served as Mexico̵7;s top military officer during Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency from 2012 to 2018.
On Friday, López Obrador said Cienfuegos’ arrest was “regrettable.”
He said he had been told that charges against Cienfuegos would be announced in the United States Friday afternoon, but he confirmed it was linked to alleged drug trafficking.
He said there was no drug-related investigation of Cienfuegos in Mexico. He said Mexican ambassador to the United States Martha Bárcena told him two weeks ago that an investigation involving Cienfuegos was being discussed, but was uncertain.
“This is an unmistakable example of government decay, how civil service, government service during the neoliberal era was detrimental,” López Obrador said.
He offered a vote of confidence to current military leaders who insisted that army and navy leaders were “not rotting.”
On Thursday night, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote on his Twitter account that US Ambassador Christopher Landau had told him that the arrest of the retired general and Cienfuegos was entitled to receive assistance. at the consulate. A U.S. official with knowledge of the case said the order was for drug trafficking and money laundering cases.
An elderly Mexican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to provide details of the case, said Cienfuegos was arrested when he arrived at the Los Angeles airport with his family. His family members were released and he was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Mexico’s reliance on its military grew only under López Obrador. He entrusted it not only to lead the government’s ongoing fight against drug cartels, but also to stop the rampant theft of the fuel pipeline, construction of major infrastructure projects and the reliance on new, civilian , National Guard.
López Obrador is scheduled to visit the site of a new airport built for the capital Friday morning. It rises to the military base and the president instructs the military in its construction.
As López Obrador talked daily about the corruption that was at the root of all the problems in Mexico, the biggest gains in his term went all over the United States.
Cienfuegos, 72, is the second former Mexican cabinet official to be arrested in the U.S. on drug charges last year.
Genaro García Luna was arrested last year in Texas for drug charges. U.S. prosecutors have accused him of taking tens of millions of dollars in bribes to protect Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel. He served as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security from 2006 to 2012 under former President Felipe Calderon. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month to drug trafficking charges in a federal court in New York.
Under Cienfuegos, Mexico continued its pursuit of war with drug cartels launched under Calderon. Guzman was shot twice while Cienfuegos was in command – in 2014 and 2016 – but the army was not directly involved in it. There was talk at the time that the DEA had more confidence in Mexican seafarers for action on the most sensitive intelligence.
A Colombian drug trafficker testified during the first year of Guzman’s US trial that the kingpin was proud of paying a $ 100 million bribe to Peña Nieto to cut the hunt for him. Peña Nieto’s spokesman denied the accusation.
The Mexican Department of Defense has not reacted immediately to Cienfuegos’ arrest.
AP writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.