The former minister of defense of Mexico was arrested on Thursday by Drug Enforcement Agency officials after traveling to the U.S., Mexican officials confirmed.
U.S. officials have not announced specific charges as of Friday morning, however the arrest by DEA agents indicates that the former minister, General Salvador Cienfuegos, will be indicted on drug-related charges. Cienfuegos, who served in his post from 2012 to 2018, is the highest-ranking Mexican official to date to be arrested drug-related corruption charges by U.S. authorities.
“There has never been a minister of defense in Mexico arrested,” former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda told the New York Times. “The minister of defense in Mexico is a guy that not only runs the army and is a military man, but he reports directly to the president. There is no one above him except the president.”
Cienfuegos was minister of defense to former president Enrique Peña Nieto, and oversaw much of Mexico’s efforts to crack down on drug trafficking. The Mexican military has taken on an outsized role in fighting drug cartels, with soldiers deployed to regions with high rates of organized crime.
The news of Cienfuegos’s arrest comes almost a year after the U.S. indictment of the former head of Mexico police Genaro Garcia Luna. That indictment alleges that during his term in office from 2006 to 2012, Garcia Luna accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel, in exchange for freedom of movement for cartel members and information on police operations.
Garcia Luna’s protection allowed the Sinaloa cartel to import tons of cocaine into the U.S.