June 15, 2024 1:09 am

Mexico celebrates an ex-military official once arrested on drug smuggling charges in the US

A former Mexican defense secretary whose arrest in the United States in 2020 on drug charges strained relations between the two countries was celebrated Wednesday with an honorary military decoration.

In October 2020, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested in Los Angeles and accused of ties to an international drug trafficking ring, but charges were dropped a month later under intense pressure from Mexico.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador presented Cienfuegos, who was head of Mexico’s army from 2012 to 2018, the award at a ceremony celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of the Heroic Military Academy, which he used to direct.

Almost three years ago to the day, Cienfuegos was arrested at a Los Angeles airport, accused of participating in an international drug trafficking and money laundering network. The U.S. later dropped their charges against him, ostensibly as a diplomatic concession, and he was returned to Mexico for further investigation.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s office, however, released Cienfuegos after they found no evidence of his alleged drug trafficking links. Following the release López Obrador also accused the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration of fabricating their charges against Cienfuegos.

“Why did they do the investigation like that?” López Obrador said at the time. “Without support, without proof?”

At the ceremony Wednesday, Cienfuegos was recognized for strengthening the military academy during his time directing it. Another former army chief was also given an award.

The ceremony was attended by representatives of military academies from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia, as well as other South American and Asian countries.

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