Mexican General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. Photo: Facebook

By KELIN DILLON

Mexico’s Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) exonerated the controversial General Salvador Cienfuegos of any wrongdoing on Jan. 14, following the country’s former defense secretary’s extradition from the United States late last year, drawing intense criticism from U.S. authorities.

Cienfuegos was arrested on Oct. 15, 2020, by U.S. officials in Los Angeles on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, alleging him to be the “Godfather” associated with Mexico’s H-2 Cartel.

The United States later dropped its charges against Cienfuegos and agreed to extradite the former military leader back to Mexico in exchange for Mexico’s own prosecution of him, which never came to fruition.

“From the corresponding analysis, it was concluded that General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda never had any encounter with the members of the criminal organization investigated by the North American authorities,” said the FGR when announcing the charges were dropped.

“Nor did he maintain any communication with them. Nor did he carry out acts tending to protect or help said individuals.”  

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced his support of  the FGR’s decision in his press conference on the morning of Jan. 15, saying the “evidence presented by the DEA has no probative value” and accusing the DEA of “fabrication” of the United States’ alleged proof.

AMLO then ordered Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard to release the United States’ 751-page document of evidence against Cienfuegos, a request Ebrard obliged on Friday, Jan. 15.

According to Mexican officials, the documents help absolve Cienfuegos because they allege his communication with the H-2  artel to have taken place on a Blackberry brand smartphone, a phone brand Mexico said the general has never used or owned before.

The United States was very unhappy and “deeply disappointed” with both the charges being dropped and the publication of the documents, with a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department saying it “fully stands by its investigation and charges in this matter.”

The U.S. Department of Justice denied a lack of proof against Cienfuegos, saying “a United States federal grand jury analyzed that material and other evidence and concluded that the criminal charges against Cienfuegos were supported by the evidence.”

“Publishing such information violates the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Mexico and the United States, and questions whether the United States can continue to share information to support Mexico’s own criminal investigations,” said the spokesman.

This newfound tension between Mexico and the United States comes at a difficult time, as the latter country prepares to transition the presidency from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

Releasing confidential information between the two countries to the public could potentially jeopardize Mexico’s relationship with the upcoming Biden administration, and as such, Mexico should tread carefully moving forward, U.S. diplomatic sources said.

…Jan. 18, 2021

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