Arrest of former defense minister shatters trust in Mexico’s armed forces
The general’s speech was forceful and unequivocal, his demeanor somber and severe. Impeccably dressed in full military uniform, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, then Mexican Secretary of Defense, spoke before a group of thousands of Mexican soldiers under his command on a spring day in April 2016 at Military Camp Number One, near Mexico City.
“Those who act like criminals,” the general said, reading from prepared remarks, “those who disrespect people, those who disobey — not only are they breaking the law but are not worthy of belonging to the armed forces.”
At the time, Cienfuegos Zepeda was reacting to a video showing several soldiers torturing a suspect. The video of the crying woman, sitting on the floor with her hands tied behind her back, had gone viral in Mexico, tarnishing the reputation of an army that had been increasingly used by then President Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, for law enforcement purposes, especially for Mexico’s war on drugs.
The general’s words now sound hollow. The man in charge of the Mexican armed forces between 2012 and 2018 was arrested Thursday upon his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport. According to federal prosecutors, the 72-year-old faces drug and money laundering charges.
Cienfuegos Zepeda, who served 54 years in the Mexican armed forces, is accused of taking bribes in exchange for allowing a Mexican drug cartel, known for gruesome acts of violence, to operate with impunity in Mexico.