MEXICO CITY — A former Mexican protection minister was arrested on Thursday night time after arriving at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport along with his household, in line with the Mexican authorities, changing into the primary high-ranking army official to be taken into custody in the US in reference to drug-related corruption in his nation.
The previous official, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who was Mexico’s protection minister from 2012 to 2018, was arrested by American officers on the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration and can face drug and money-laundering prices in the US, in line with a federal legislation enforcement official in New York.
The information not solely casts a pall over Mexico’s battle towards organized crime, but additionally underscores the forces of corruption that contact the best ranges of the federal government. Basic Cienfuegos was protection minister all through the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who left workplace two years in the past.
The injury to Mexico is difficult to overstate. Basic Cienfuegos’s arrest comes solely 10 months after one other high Mexican official — who as soon as led the Mexican equal of the F.B.I. — was indicted in New York on prices of taking bribes whereas in workplace to guard the Sinaloa drug cartel, certainly one of Mexico’s strongest legal mafias.
That official, Genaro García Luna, served as the pinnacle of Mexico’s Federal Investigation Company from 2001 to 2005, and for the following six years was Mexico’s secretary of public safety, a cabinet-level place. In that position, he had the duty of serving to the president on the time, Felipe Calderón, create his technique to battle their nation’s drug cartels.
Each Mr. García Luna and Basic Cienfuegos served on the highest reaches of the Mexican authorities at a time when homicides spiked to historic ranges, drug cartels waged conflict, and beneath Mr. Peña Nieto, army operations had been expanded.
If the boys are finally convicted, it signifies that two of the best rating and most generally revered commanders ever to supervise the conflict on medicine in Mexico had been corrupted by organized crime — within the service of the very cartels that proceed to kill file numbers of Mexicans.
“There has by no means been a minister of protection in Mexico arrested,” mentioned Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican overseas minister. “The minister of protection in Mexico is a man that not solely runs the military and is a army man, however he experiences on to the president. There is no such thing as a one above him besides the president.”
Mexico’s overseas minister, Marcelo Ebrard, confirmed the arrest in a Twitter publish. He mentioned he had been instructed solely on Thursday night time by the US ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, that Basic Cienfuegos had been taken into custody.
The precise prices that Basic Cienfuegos will face weren’t instantly clear, and Drug Enforcement Administration officers didn’t reply to requests for remark.
“This can be a large deal,” mentioned Alejandro Madrazo, a professor at CIDE, a college in Mexico. “The army has grow to be far more corrupt and far more abusive for the reason that conflict on medicine was declared, and for the primary time they will not be untouchable — however not by the Mexican authorities, by the American authorities.”
Mexico’s army has performed a central position in public safety for the reason that crackdown on the drug cartels started in 2006, deploying troopers to areas overrun by organized crime. The secretary of protection oversees that effort.
Suspicions of corruption within the Mexican army have lengthy surfaced in personal conversations, however the army has a rare quantity of autonomy, seldom bowing to political pressures and usually having fun with safety by the president, who depends on it for the nation’s home protection.
With the army entrance and middle within the battle towards narcotics trafficking, the Mexican authorities has by no means constructed an efficient police pressure. Using troopers who’re educated in fight however not policing has introduced issues of its personal.
In December 2017, Mexico handed a safety legislation cementing the army’s position in preventing the drug conflict, outraging the United Nations and native and worldwide human rights teams. They warned that the measure would result in abuses, depart troops on the streets indefinitely and militarize police actions for the foreseeable future.
Basic Cienfuegos repeatedly defended the army, saying it was the one establishment successfully confronting organized crime. As drug violence rocketed lately, he requested repeatedly that the federal authorities present a authorized framework that protects the forces, saying the necessity for it was better than ever.
“At present the crimes we’re coping with are of one other stage and significance; they contain lots of people, generally total households, and we’re appearing with out a authorized body,” Basic Cienfuegos mentioned in March 2018. “With out it, our assistance is impeded.”
Nonetheless, the army has repeatedly been singled out for human rights abuses and the usage of extreme pressure, together with accusations of extrajudicial killings that dogged the armed forces all through Basic Cienfuegos’s tenure as protection minister.
However no high-ranking Mexican army official has been charged with cash laundering and drug trafficking. Such prices would characterize a brand new entrance within the effort to fight the corruption and extraordinary energy wielded by organized crime in Mexico.
Basic Cienfuegos’s arrest doesn’t seem to have been a joint operation with the Mexican authorities. The case towards Mr. García Luna, the retired police official, was the direct results of testimony within the New York trial of the drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, higher generally known as El Chapo, who ran the Sinaloa cartel. It was unclear on Friday morning whether or not the arrest of Basic Cienfuegos was additionally associated to the case towards Mr. Guzmán, who was convicted in February 2019 after a three-month trial in Federal District Courtroom in Brooklyn.
The Guzmán trial uncovered the interior workings of his sprawling cartel, which over a long time shipped tons of medicine into the US and plagued Mexico with relentless bloodshed and corruption.
In 2016 and 2017, the years when Mr. Guzmán was arrested for a ultimate time and despatched to New York to be prosecuted — at a time when Basic Cienfuegos was protection minister — Mexican heroin manufacturing elevated by 37 p.c, and fentanyl seizures on the southwest border greater than doubled, in line with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The D.E.A. famous because the case towards Mr. Guzmán unfolded that the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Era cartels “stay the best legal drug menace” to the US.
Prosecution of the Guzmán case was years within the making, and his trial drew upon investigative work by the F.B.I., the D.E.A., the US Coast Guard, Homeland Safety Investigations and federal prosecutors in Chicago, Miami, San Diego, Washington, New York and El Paso, Texas. The trial workforce additionally relied on scores of native American cops and the authorities in Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Witnesses testified that bribes had been paid to Mr. García Luna and a bunch of Mexican generals and police officers, and nearly the complete congress of Colombia.
“One of many vital issues about this conviction is that it sends a convincing message,” Ángel Meléndez, particular agent in cost for Homeland Safety Investigations, mentioned on the time. “You’re not unreachable, you’re not untouchable, and your day will come.”
Reporting was contributed by Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico Metropolis, Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington, Alan Feuer from New York and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.