United States charges former Mexican defence minister with drug trafficking

Then-Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos appears with President Enrique Pena Nieto during a parade celebrating Mexico's Independence in Mexico City Mexico

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Former Mexican defence minister Salvador Cienfuegos has been arrested in the United States on undisclosed charges, Mexico's foreign minister said on Thursday. While he said the arrest was unfortunate, it gave him another opportunity to repeat his refrain that corruption is at the root of Mexico's most serious problems.

Like Garcia Luna, Cienfuegos had been a major figure in Mexico's so-called drug war, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives over the past 20 years.

Mexico authorities don't identify any drug cartel as H-2, which, according to US officials, was led by Juan Francisco Patron Sanchez.

The government of Mexico says US authorities have arrested a former Mexican defense minister on drug charges at an airport in Los Angeles.

"The consul in Los Angeles will inform me of the charges in the next few hours".

Intercepted communications between Cienfuegos and a senior cartel leader discussed the general's historical assistance to another drug trafficking organization, as well as communications in which the defendant is identified by name, title and photograph as the Mexican government official assisting the H-2 cartel, authorities said. His family members were released and he was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center.

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Ebrard said Cienfuegos was arrested at L.A. worldwide airport, as he was either arriving or leaving the country.

Mexican prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for information about why Cienfuegos was arrested.

"This detention is going to have a powerful impact in Mexico", said military affairs analyst Raul Benitez.

Prosecutors accuse Cienfuegos, a mainstay in Enrique Pena Nieto's 2012-2018 administration, of conspiring to produce and distribute "thousands of kilograms" of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana in the USA between December 2015 and February 2017.

Several members of Pena Nieto's cabinet and party have been implicated in high-level corruption cases, sometimes involving allegations of links to organized crime.

Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, but that was true of both his predecessors and his successor in the post.

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Under Lopez Obrador, the armed forces have taken on more responsibility, including establishing a militarised national police force, overseeing port security and working on infrastructure projects.

"We're facing an unprecedented situation" Lopez Obrador added, noting that two former Mexican ministers are now detained in the USA on allegations of links to drug cartels.

The detention of Cienfuegos comes on the heels of the arrest of ex-President Felipe Calderon's security minister, Genaro Garcia Luna.

Garcia Luna is on trial in NY on suspicion of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel once run by drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the same cartel he was tasked with combating.

The high-profile arrest was praised by President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador. He has leant heavily on the armed forces in his efforts to end cartel violence in the country, which saw almost 35,000 killings a year ago.

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