Friday January 29, 2021
A nasty spat has emerged between the US and Mexican governments about alleged official corruption and drug trafficking. The latest incident began on October 16, 2020, when US authorities arrested Mexico’s former defense secretary, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, at Los Angeles International Airport on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Cienfuegos Zepeda was a major player in Mexico’s military and political affairs, leading the country’s armed forces for six years under former president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government protested, contending that Washington overstepped its authority and arguing that the allegations against Cienfuegos Zepeda were flimsy, at best. Lopez Obrador himself accused the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of "meddling" and failing to take any responsibility for its own long-standing relationship with the general. The case took an unexpected turn on November 17 when the US Justice Department, apparently responding to Lopez Obrador’s complaints, abruptly withdrew the charges and returned Cienfuegos Zepeda to Mexico.
But US drug warriors were not content to let tensions subside. Instead, they threatened to revive the prosecution of Cienfuegos Zepeda. The Justice Department and the DEA were especially upset when the Mexican government released details from shared documents that indicated just how flimsy Washington’s case might be. Angry US officials were adamant that they didn’t appreciate such unilateral efforts at transparency, and they hinted darkly that the move might jeopardize relations. Lopez Obrador responded with renewed, pointed criticism of Washington’s growing pressure. He also escalated his own criticism of Washington’s corruption allegations against Cienfuegos Zepeda, now accusing the DEA of "fabricating" the charges.