This Monday, January 19th, President Andrés Obrador of Mexico clarified his stance on the current diplomatic scuffle between the U.S. government and the Mexican government. He stated that the new Biden administration would understand Mexico’s position on the Cienfuegos situation and that relations would be “very good”. The Cienfuegos situation occurred after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested former Mexican general and ex-defense minister, Salvador Cienfuegos for drug crimes. While the DEA, citing diplomatic considerations, released Cienfuegos to Mexico in November, the Mexican government completely exonerated Cienfuegos, prompting outrage from the U.S. Trump administration.
The main Mexican defense and/or response to the United States outcry over the exoneration of General Cienfuegos was the Mexican government’s claim that the U.S. DEA’s case against Cienfuegos was incredibly weak and full of errors and contradictions. The Mexican government then demanded that the U.S. government publicize the case or make the case open to the public to demonstrate their point. The U.S. administration had expressed dismay at this response. While the case has not been made public, I felt it was in our best interest to examine the current facts of the situation surrounding Cienfuegos, and conclude with my own stance on the situation.
The case against Cienfuegos included a transcript of intercepted blackberry messages according to the Washington Post. It also was alleged, according to the New York Times, that Cienfuegos was known as “El Padrino” or “The Godfather” to one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartels. The case also argued that Cienfuegos would direct the crime organization’s military operations in exchange for large sums of cash. The case took almost seven years to build, suggesting that it lasted over two presidential terms, and thus not likely to be a political tool by any singular presidential administration. Obrador’s remarks suggesting that the case was underprepared and meaningless came almost five days after receiving the case. Mexican locals also expressed their discontent with Obrador dropping the case. Obrador had previously promised to root out corruption from the Mexican government, which had not only a history of authoritative military control but was also ranked the deadliest country (outside of an official warzone) in the world for journalists this year, according to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Obrador’s almost sudden dropping of the case was clearly taken as a sign by the Mexican people that not much had changed in terms of the Mexican government’s corruption. These events ultimately resulted in U.S. and Mexican tensions rising. This culminated in a December resolution approved by Mexican lawmakers to restrict or expel U.S. federal agents.
It would be no understatement to say that these events were quite excitable. Yet upon reflecting on the nature of the situation surrounding the Mexican government, I would say it is pretty evident that the Mexican government is acting in a very suspicious manner, and that the dropping of the charges against Cienfuegos, is an event that must be condemned. I also would like to point out that this belief of mine, is supported by political scientists from some incredibly reputable universities. Gladys McCormick, an associate professor in history at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, stated that it was no surprise and that the only thing out of the ordinary was Mexico’s failure to make a better show of looking into Cienfuegos. Ultimately, it is undeniable that the Cienfuegos situation is an example of broken or failed justice. With that being said, the situation’s larger relevance ties back to Obrador’s statement on the Biden administration that I opened this article with. Cienfuegos will likely not face justice, however, his situation and the impacts of it will have lasting impacts on the diplomatic relationship between the new Biden administration and Obrador. Ana Vanessa Cárdenas Zanatta, a political science professor at Monterrey Technological and Anahuac universities in Mexico City, stated that these events will suggest that the Biden-Mexico relationship will be a relationship of distrust. “This gives Biden all of the cards to distrust the relationship with Mexico so that they continue in secrecy and resume the pressure on the Mexican government of ’what are you doing in the fight against drug trafficking?’” Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former chief of international operations referred to this situation as, “the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as U.S.-Mexico cooperation in counter-drug activities.” While the academics and authorities have weighed in their thoughts and Obrador gave his, it now falls upon us to wait and see how the situation develops.