López Obrador Decorates General Salvador Cienfuegos, Accused by the US of Drug Trafficking and Later Exonerated

The Secretary of Defense during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, whose arrest in 2020 caused a diplomatic row between Mexico and the US, received a recognition for his contribution to the Army.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador presents decoration to Salvador Cienfuegos, Wednesday, in Perote (Veracruz).GALO CAÑAS RODRÍGUEZ (CUARTOSCURO)

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has presented a decoration to General Salvador Cienfuegos, Secretary of National Defense in the Government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who was accused by the United States of drug trafficking in 2020 and finally exonerated by the Mexican Government due to lack of evidence. This Wednesday, López Obrador presented him with the “Bicentennial of the Heroic Military College” award, which distinguishes Army commanders for their contributions to the military training establishment. Cienfuegos, who was director of the school from 1997 to 2000, had a privileged seat in the presidium between López Obrador and officials from his cabinet, including the current heads of the Army and Navy.

Upon collecting the decoration, in a formal event in the State of Veracruz, the former head of Defense gave the President, who is the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, a military salute. They shook hands and exchanged words that only nearby officials could hear. Another military commander received the same award, General Enrique Cervantes, Secretary of Defense in the Government of Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000).

López Obrador defended Cienfuegos’ reputation to the end when he was arrested on October 15th, 2020 at the Los Angeles airport in front of his family. The US anti-drug agency, the DEA, accused him of drug trafficking and money laundering in collaboration with the H-2 Cartel, a split from the Beltrán Leyva criminal network. The López Obrador Government pressured, through the Foreign Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office (FGR), for the United States to hand over the general to Mexico, with the promise of prosecuting him in the country. Shortly after entering national territory, the FGR eventually dropped the charges.

The then Donald Trump Administration accused Cienfuegos based on thousands of Blackberry messages allegedly exchanged between the general and members of the H-2 Cartel, which operated on the northern Pacific coast of Mexico. According to the indictment, Cienfuegos supported H-2 member, Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, at least between December 2015 and February 2017, providing protection for his illicit operations in exchange for bribes. The DEA pointed out that, thanks to the general’s collaboration, H-2 was able to traffic thousands of kilos of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States.

The López Obrador government protested the fact that US agencies had not informed it that an investigation into a prominent former official was underway. Furthermore, he was none other than the former head of the Army, an institution for which López Obrador has deep respect. “I am going to ask for all the information on this issue, because it is an institution of institutions, it is a pillar of the Mexican State”, the President said in one of his press conferences conferences. “It is a very delicate matter and I want to follow up and inform on it so that it does not lend itself to an unfair attack against the institution.”

Mexico considered that it was a violation of national sovereignty and pushed in the same way: it threatened to expel US agents who were working in national territory and to modify the law to make cooperation in intelligence operations more transparent. Washington relented and sent the evidence supporting the investigation to Mexico. Diplomatic pressure was successful and the US finally withdrew the accusations from Cienfuegos and handed him over to Mexico to be tried.

The FGR began its own investigation and discovered that the Blackberry messages attributed to the former Secretary of Defense were written with spelling errors such that they raised doubts about the solidity of the file. Shortly after, the Prosecutor’s Office concluded that the general “never had any encounter with the members of the criminal organization investigated by the North American authorities and nor did he maintain any communication with them, nor did he carry out acts aimed at protecting or helping said individuals.” López Obrador celebrated the FGR’s resolution and stated that the DEA “fabricated” the accusation against the officer.

Original article by Zedrik Raziel at https://tinyurl.com/4azed2ah
Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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