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February 5, 2021

Cienfuegos and the Bilateral Relationship

As the new Biden administration begins to chart a path for what is bound to be a complicated relationship with Mexico, the case of Salvador Cienfuegos remains both a topic of conversation and a source of conflict. As WOLA's Stephanie Brewer observes, "This should be an opportunity for both countries to reevaluate bilateral cooperation."

Underscoring this, Mexico Violence Resource Project co-founder Cecilia Farfán notes in an essay for War on the Rocks, the problem stems from Mexico and the United States’ co-responsibility for security issues: guns, drugs, crime, and disease easily cross borders. And when the general formerly responsible for overseeing shared efforts to combat these challenges is arrested on one side of the border, then repatriated and exonerated on the other, the repercussions are also shared.

With willful negligence and active hostility, through the exoneration of Cienfuegos and modification of a law that undermines U.S.-Mexican cooperation, the López Obrador administration has pushed the United States into a defensive stand. Yet there is reason to be skeptical of the DEA investigation, as Carlos Pérez Ricart notes, as the organization has a long history of questionable practices. In arresting the general, the DEA might well have been attempting to pressure the Mexican government despite weaknesses in the case.

Yet Cienfuegos’s exoneration—deserved or not—does mean we will have fewer answers about what happened, particularly in Nayarit, as Lilian Chapa points out. The state’s corrupt attorney general, Édgar Veytia, was tried and convicted in the United States. Former governor Roberto Sandoval is now wanted in Mexico, his whereabouts are unknown, and there is reason to doubt whether or not Mexican officials will ever investigate the crimes that occurred or provide justice to victims.

In case you missed it: What does lynching reveal about the dynamics of violence in Mexico? How do popular conceptions of justice shape security policies? What is the role of the state in acts of extralegal punishment? In an interview with the Mexico Violence Resource Project, Gema Kloppe-Santamaría discusses how her new book offers insights on the dynamics of contemporary violence.

What We're Reading:

  • Not all extortions involve violence. Manuel Velez and Elisa Norio write about "white exortions" carried out by public servants and union representatives who use their discretionary power to "tax" users. For data on extortion to be complete, they argue, we should include these practices.


  • “Every megalopolis erases its natural environment, but Mexico City especially,” writes Caroline Tracy in this lyrical meditation on Mexico City’s vanished lakes and rivers, and the metaphor of quarantine as environment.

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