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Former Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, right, with former U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in 2017. Cienfuegos was arrested on a DEA warrant at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday.
Retired Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who served as Mexico’s secretary of national defense during an extended, intensely violent struggle between Mexico’s army and the nation’s drug cartels, was arrested Thursday night at Los Angeles International Airport on a warrant from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a DEA spokesperson said.
He sido informado por el Embajador Christopher Landau de los Estados Unidos que el ex Secretario de la Defensa Nacional, Gral. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, ha sido detenido en el Aeropuerto de Los Angeles, California.
— Marcelo Ebrard C. (@m_ebrard) October 16, 2020
Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, confirmed the arrest via Twitter, writing that U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau informed him of Cienfuegos’ detention. Ebrard wrote that Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles would shortly inform him of the charges facing Cienfuegos, and that the retired general would receive normal consular services.
DEA Los Angeles Division spokesperson Nicole Nishida confirmed the arrest to Reuters but would not provide details of the warrant or the circumstances of Cienfuegos’ arrest.
Cienfuegos, 72, served as defense secretary from 2012 to 2018 under former President Enrique Peña Nieto. Felipe Calderón, Peña Nieto’s predecessor, used the army — one of the country’s few institutions which enjoys widespread public support — in a bloody campaign against Mexico’s drug cartels.
Peña Nieto pledged to step back from the so-called drug war in an effort to reduce the horrific levels of violence brought on by the conflict, but the murder rate in Mexico remained high throughout his term.
Judging by Ebrard’s tweet, the U.S. arrest of Cienfuegos did not appear to be coordinated with Mexican authorities. Cienfuegos’ arrest appears to be the first of a top-ranking Mexican military officer in the ongoing fight against drug cartels.