As defence minister, Cienfuegos was a powerful figure in Mexico’s drug war in which the army battled cartels across the country. Several of Mexico’s former top-ranking “drug war” officials have been implicated in narcotics.
Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, but that was true of his predecessors and his successor in the post.
The worst scandal in Cienfuegos’ tenure involved the 2014 army killings of suspects in a grain warehouse. In June 2014, soldiers killed 22 suspects at the warehouse in the town of Tlatlaya.
While some died in an initial shoot-out with the army patrol – in which one soldier was wounded – a human rights investigation later showed that at least eight and perhaps as many as a dozen suspects were executed after they surrendered.
‘We don’t like it’
More than 296,000 people have been murdered since the government militarised the fight against the drug cartels in 2006, according to the authorities, who say most of the killings are linked to gang violence.
Cienfuego previously complained about his troops having to take part in the country’s war on drug trafficking, saying the military was not suited for the job.
“We didn’t ask to be here. We don’t like it. We didn’t study how to chase criminals,” he said.
“Our function is something else and it’s been made into something unnatural. We are doing things that don’t correspond to our training because there’s no one else to do them,” the minister said.
Cienfuegos is the second former Mexican minister who is detained in the US.