A former Mexican defense minister, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, was arrested Thursday for drug trafficking and money laundering while in office.
Zepeda – who served as Defense Minister of Mexico from 2012 to 2018 – was arrested by U.S. law enforcement at the Los Angeles airport. He is the highest ranking Mexican official to ever be arrested on such charges.
"There has never been a Minister of Defense in Mexico arrested," said former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda. "The Minister of Defense in Mexico is a guy that not only runs the army and is a military man, but he reports directly to the president. There is no one above him except the president."
Known by the nickname "The Godfather," Zepeda is accused of helping the violent H-2 Cartel smuggle drugs into the U.S.
"In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel – a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder – to operate with impunity in Mexico," said prosecutors in a Friday statement.
Professor Alejandro Madrazo of CIDE in Mexico City echoed Castañeda's thoughts on the significance of the arrest.
"The military has become way more corrupt and way more abusive since the war on drugs was declared," said Madrazo. "For the first time they may not be untouchable – but not by the Mexican government, by the American government."
Current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also responded to the arrest, saying it "serves to illustrate that the main problem in Mexico is corruption."