Former Mexican defense secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who led the army for six years under ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto, was arrested on drug trafficking and money laundering charges at Los Angeles International Airport, the Associated Press reports. Two people with knowledge of the arrest said Cienfuegos was taken into custody on a Drug Enforcement Administration warrant. Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, wrote on his Twitter account that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau had informed him of the retired general’s arrest. A senior Mexican official said Cienfuegos was arrested when he arrived at the Los Angeles airport with his family.
Cienfuegos, 72, served from 2012 to 2018 as secretary of defense under Peña Nieto. He is the highest-ranking former Cabinet official arrested since top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019. Garcia Luna, who served under former President Felipe Calderón, has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges. The Cienfuegos case is a tough blow for Mexico, where the army and navy are some of the few remaining respected public institutions. While current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to go after corruption and lawbreaking under past administrations, he has relied more heavily on the army than has any other president in recent history. Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, which also was true of both his predecessors and his successor in the post.