General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Secretary of National Defense in Mexico from 2012 to 2018, has been indicted on four counts, including international heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana manufacture and distribution conspiracy, importation and distribution conspiracies, and conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Federal prosecutors said Cienfuegos Zepeda allegedly assisted the H-2 cartel, which was previously led by the late Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, also known as “H-2,” and based in Nayarit and Sinaloa, Mexico.
“The defendant abused that public position to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organization, traffic thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States, including New York City,” federal prosecutors said in a letter supporting a motion for a permanent order of detention against the defendant. “In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel — a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder — to operate with impunity in Mexico.”
The general appeared in federal court Friday and has been ordered to remain in US custody until a formal detention hearing is held for him next Tuesday. Prosecutors will ask for his transfer to New York. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“It is a very regrettable fact that a former defense secretary is detained, accused of drug trafficking,” Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, said during his daily press briefing on Friday.
Falko Ernst, a Mexico-based security analyst for the Crisis Group, said the arrest was “a very stark reminder that the incorruptibility of the armed forces — the myth that they’re somehow protagonists of the ‘war on drugs’ and simultaneously uncompromised by it — has little to do with on-the-ground realities.”
“It is also a reminder that there is no such thing as a clear line between state and crime, which undermines the very notion that this is a winnable war with clear enemy categories,” Ernst said via WhatsApp Friday. “It should thus remind us how badly needed new, and better solutions that go beyond force alone are. The current approach — ever-greater militarization — has failed dramatically.”
Cienfuegos Zepeda served as defense minister under President Enrique Peña Nieto, who left office two years ago.
In the letter supporting the motion for a permanent order of detention, federal prosecutors accuse Cienfuegos Zepeda of using his position to ensure that military operations were not conducted against the H-2 cartel, initiate operations against rivals, locate maritime transportation for drug shipments, help expand the territory controlled by the cartel and introduce senior cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican government officials.
The general also warned the cartel about US law enforcement investigations and informants, prosecutors wrote. In one instance, an H-2 cartel member whom the organization incorrectly believed to be an informant was murdered, according to the letter.
The evidence against the general includes “thousands of Blackberry Messenger communications” between him and a senior cartel boss as well as other organization members, according to the letter.
AMLO on Friday defended the armed forces, calling them “incorruptible” and “pillars of the Mexican…