A public apology for torture and the Ayotzinapa massacre: Cienfuegos’ six years as head of the Peña Nieto Army

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The general detained by the DEA accumulates several milestones and controversies in his history of fighting drug trafficking and organized crime

Former Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested Thursday night at the Los Angeles airport (California) in the presence of his family, as reported the Mexican Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard. The United States authorities have reported that the arrest warrant was issued by the same court that is trying Genaro García Luna, the former Secretary of Security and head of the anti-drug strategy of former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), who was arrested in that country accused of conspiracy, false statements and accepting bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel. General Cienfuegos was in command of National Defense (Sedena) from December 2012 to the end of 2018, during the entire six-year term of Enrique Peña Nieto. The period was plagued by torture and corruption scandals:

General Cienfuegos inaugurated his position in style in Michoacán. The secretary coordinated pacification operations between self-defense groups made up of heavily armed neighbors in the territory dominated by the Knights Templar cartel.

In parallel, a corruption plot began through military purchases from shell companies. The Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) made purchases from DRM Aceros Internacional for alleged supplies for the production of weapons, ammunition, explosives and military equipment.

Cienfuegos boasted that complaints against the military had dropped by 60% between 2012 and 2014. During that year, Sedena was involved in several scandals. First, because of the accusation of the parents of the 43 Ayotzinapa students of hiding information about the disappearance of the young people. And second, because of the Tlatlaya massacre and the ruling of the National Human Rights Commission. The resolution ruled that eight soldiers killed 15 civilians in cold blood, including two teenagers, who had surrendered after an armed confrontation in which seven other people had died. Cienfuegos finished off the storm of controversy with its criticism of the reform that requires submitting the military to ordinary justice in cases in which irregular actions by soldiers affect civilians.

The UN determined in February that torture and ill-treatment were widespread and that they occurred in a context of impunity in Mexico under the mandate of Cienfuegos in Sedena. The video of the torture of a young woman in Ajutchitlán del Progreso, located in the heart of the state of Guerrero – the same one in which the massacre of the 43 normalistas was committed – fueled the accusations that would force the Army to apologize for the torture by First time in history.

On January 8, under the mandate of Salvador Cienfuegos as head of the Ministry of Defense, Joaquín was captured for the third time. El Chapo Guzmán during an operation carried out by the Mexican Army. El Chapo had starred months before in a spectacular escape from a high security prison.

Cienfuegos presented a decoration to Genaro Fausto Lorenzo Espinosa, whom he described as “visionary” during the celebration of his retirement after 50 years in the Armed Forces. Lorenzo Espinosa was in charge of the Military Industry Directorate from 2015 to December 1, 2016. Weeks later, the Superior Audit issued the opinion indicating the anomalies in the purchases made by the Military Industry Directorate General during 2015, in the period of the newly decorated general. In its observations, the supervisory body warned of deficiencies in the selection of suppliers and concluded that there was a lack of control mechanisms in the management of resources

The Internal Security Law was approved at the end of the year, which normalized the presence of the military forces for the performance of control and maintenance of public security. The law was harshly criticized by groups in defense of human rights and they called it unconstitutional, while at the same time it supposed the militarization of the country and postponed the creation of a “reliable police force”, according to Alejandro Madrazo, of the CIDE. Human rights organizations also criticized the high levels of violence with which the army acted in its operations

During this year, 50,000 soldiers actively fought in the war against drug trafficking. At the same time that the number of deaths in the conflict climbed to 170,000 in a decade and 25,000 disappeared were counted.

This year ended as the most violent on record up to that date. In October, with two months to go to the end of the year, 23,968 deaths had already been recorded.

This year was the round of farewell to General Cienfuegos. After a six-year term that began with a slight decrease in the number of violent deaths, culminated in a rebound in homicides, cases of unclear massacres and a greater presence of the military in the public sphere.

In his farewell speech from office, Salvador Cienfuegos also announced his retirement, on November 29, 2018. Just a few days before the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the presidency after having won with 53% of the vote count for his favor.

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