By Parker Asmann - openDemocracy

The US arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister on drug charges confirms what has been alleged by traffickers themselves: that the country’s military, which plays an outsized role in the fight against organized crime, has been thoroughly corrupted.

On October 15, the US Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, informed Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard that former general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s defense secretary under former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), had been arrested at Los Angeles’ international airport.

The arrest order from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) came after Cienfuegos — dubbed “El Padrino,” or the “Godfather” — was charged with three counts of drug conspiracy and one count of money laundering, according to an indictment filed in August 2019 in the Eastern District of New York.

The charges stem from allegations that he colluded with the H-2 Cartel between 2015 and 2017, according to court documents. The H-2 Cartel — which has its roots in the Beltrán Leyva Organization — was formerly led by Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, alias “H2,” who was shot and killed by Mexican Marines in early 2017. US federal prosecutors accuse the former general of using his “public position to help the H-2 Cartel … operate with impunity” in exchange for bribes, according to an October 16 letter from prosecutors to Eastern District judge Carol B. Amon.

Evidence cited includes “thousands of [intercepted] Blackberry Messenger communications” that allegedly show Cienfuegos shielded the group from military operations, secured maritime transport of drug shipments, warned the group about US law enforcement investigations and introduced its members to other corrupt Mexican officials, prosecutors said. Cienfuegos’ assistance ensured the H-2 Cartel operated without “significant interference from the Mexican military,” allowing the crime group to import “thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States,” prosecutors alleged in the letter.