A federal judge in New York has granted the United States government's request to drop the charges against a Mexican ex-minister who was accused of drug trafficking.
Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos was the defense minister of Mexico from 2012 to 2018. He was arrested at Los Angeles airport in October 2020, according to The Washington Post.
According to prosecutors, Cienfuegos had linked to the extremely violent H-2 drug cartel. However, following pressure from Mexico, the US Department of Justice said he should be investigated in his home country.
In a hearing on November 18, a US federal judge granted the Department of Justice's request. The prosecutor's office said that it had a strong case against Gen. Cienfuegos but that maintaining cooperation between US and Mexican law enforcement authorities was more important than prosecuting the ex-defense minister.
The Mexican government was not informed of the investigation against Gen. Cienfuegos. They had threatened to revise its relationship with the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Gen. Cienfuegos arrived back to Mexico on November 18 after the judge dropped the case, according to The New York Times.
Who is Salvador Cienfuegos?
Gen. Cienfuegos was the Mexican defense minister during the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. In that role, he ran the Mexican army and he also reported directly to the president on all matters pertaining Mexico's security.
In Mexico, the armed forces dealt with outside threats and played a key role in fighting Mexico's powerful drug cartels, according to NBC News.
The army was first deployed to fight the cartels back in 2006 by then-President Felipe Calderón, who declared war on them.
However, it was while Gen. Cienfuegos was the defense minister that the military's role in law enforcement was enshrined in law. The internal security law was later overturned by the Supreme Court, which later ruled that it was unconstitutional for the military to have a role in domestic security.
But with the police not trained enough and with the lack of proper equipment, the military has continued to be the important player in Mexico's battle against the cartels. During his time as the defense minister, Gen. Cienfuegos portrayed himself as a relentless enemy of the drug cartels.
The indictment accused Gen. Cienfuegos of trafficking drugs to the US and laundering money during his time as defense minister. He was also accused of permitting the H-2 cartel to operate with impunity in Mexico. The H-2 cartel is known to engage in torture and murder.
The investigators alleged that not only had he shielded the members of the cartel, but he also used the Mexican military to launch operations against H-2's rivals. Gen. Cienfuegos pleaded not guilty to the charges back in October.
US Attorney General William Barr and Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz issued a joint statement on November 17 saying that the US Department of Justice has made the decision to seek the dismissal of the US criminal charges against Gen. Cienfuegos so he may be investigated and charged under Mexican law.
The US had taken the decision to seek dismissal of charges in recognition of its partnership with Mexico. A court filing asking for the dismissal of the charges stated that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government's interest in pursuing the prosecution of Gen. Cienfuegos, therefore require the dismissal of the case.