“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat

Proceso’s Washington correspondent recounts in a forthcoming book his role in the investigation of one of the most serious and delicate issues that the current government has had to face: the trial against Salvador Cienfuegos, Secretary of Defense of the Peña Nieto administration.

In a forthcoming book, Proceso’s Washington correspondent recounts his role in the investigation of one of the most serious and delicate issues that the current government has had to face and which was full of unclear negotiations between political figures in Mexico and the United States: the trial against Salvador Cienfuegos, Secretary of Defense of the Peña Nieto administration. In the book, Jesús Esquivel narrates in detail his participation in the journalistic work from the moment a U.S. official approached him to try to sound him out. The result is a at your service, General.The Cienfuegos case, and the submission of AMLO before military power (Grijalbo, Mexico, 2023), of which we present here the introduction. 

I received a brief text message on my phone that filled me with anxiety. It had to be something important and very delicate, of that I had no doubt.

“Can we meet in 90 minutes at Freedom Plaza? Don’t bring your cell phone.” Whoever texted me was a federal district attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, whom I met in November 2018 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Brooklyn, New York, at the start of the drug trafficking trial against JoaquiÕn El Chapo GuzmaÕn.

Freedom Plaza is located half a block from the Proceso magazine office in the National Press Building on 14th Street, between Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street, and three blocks from the White House. From the Plaza, you can see the Capitol, and the Department of Justice is also located on the same street.

It was Tuesday, April 7, 2020. I arrived 20 minutes before the appointed time, and I was anxious. A few months after the conclusion of Chapo’s trial and sentence of life imprisonment plus 30 years in prison, I met with the prosecutor in Washington during a recess of a trial hearing against a major drug kingpin in Mexico. The prosecutor had asked me on another occasion to give him my phone number. “I’ll only look for you the day I have something important and interesting to tell you.” He did not give me his. “I have several, I’ll find you,” he justified himself.

After 20 minutes of waiting absorbed in my thoughts, I was surprised by the prosecutor when he stood in front of me to greet me. He asked me if I had my cell phone with me, I answered no, and he immediately asked me if I had a tape recorder. I showed it to him, and he asked for it and made sure it was turned off.

“Everything I’m going to tell you is off the record, I left my telephones in the office,” he commented and touched his pants and coat pockets as if to show me.

He began by demanding guarantees that nothing of what he would tell me would be published, since it was an ongoing federal investigation: “That could hinder the investigation and lead to my being indicted in the United States for the crime of obstruction of justice. I nodded, knowing all this well after years of covering federal criminal cases in the U.S. as a reporter. We started walking on the esplanade.

There is in New York, in the Eastern District Court, a very sensitive case involving your country. It’s about a general of the Armed Forces involved in drug trafficking. A very important general. The DEA has investigated him and has evidence against him,” I explained, more words, fewer words. I did not record or take notes. The prosecutor did not allow me to do so. So I can’t quote him, but I can try to recreate the day.

I wanted to know the name of the general under investigation, but he refused to reveal it. He made it clear to me that he was a military man who was very important during the presidency of Enrique Pen~a Nieto. He gave me the tip, as he suggested, so that with my “Mexican sources” I could try to find out if the government of President Andre’s Manuel Lo’pez Obrador was aware of the case.

He then made it clear to me that if I could get information from the Mexican side on this matter, I could publish it in Proceso. Of course, I was forbidden to mention any U.S. source: omission could be the way out for a Mexican reporter who would cause a scandal by anticipating the unauthorized public exposure by a federal court of an extraterritorial criminal case. I was not entirely convinced by his advice as a lawyer. I knew that, should I publish the story, if I could get any corroboration from the Mexican side, I would not exactly be invulnerable to a lawsuit with federal agencies or other U.S. government agencies, even if I did not mention U.S. sources.

The prosecutor was about to take his leave when I asked him the following question, and I quoted him verbatim:

Anything else?

I think they call the general El Padrino, he replied and started walking towards the Justice Department.