MEXICO CITY -- Former Mexican defense secretary Salvador Cienfuegos stands accused by U.S. prosecutors of aiding the so-called H-2 cartel ship drugs to the United States. But in a country where the names of drug lords and cartels are household words the H-2 gang left many Mexicans scratching their heads. Here is what is known about the group:
The brief reign of Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, alias “El H2” — the only name included in documents initially released by U.S. prosecutors in Cienfuegos' case — became known more for the way he died than anything he did when he was alive.
A successor to Hector Beltran-Leyva, the original “H”, Patrón Sánchez was really just a piece of the once-mighty Beltran-Leyva cartel, the group prosecutors have always said was the most sophisticated at spying on, co-opting and corrupting government officials.
The family-run Beltran Leyva cartel was once a leading player in Mexican drug trafficking, with control of the U.S. border region in Sonora. But Hector’s brothers Alfredo and Carlos were arrested, and another brother, Arturo, was killed — by marines, not the army — in 2009. Following the deaths and arrests, the Beltran Leyva splintered into offshoots.
While some cartels like the Zetas or Jalisco preferred to shoot it out with government forces, the Beltran-Leyva cartel often preferred to buy them off, though its members would sometimes shoot it out when cornered.
Hector Beltran-Leyva, in fact, was captured peacefully as he dined without apparent worry at a restaurant in the colonial tourist city of San Miguel de Allende. He died of a heart attack while imprisoned in 2018.
Patrón Sánchez also was living comfortably and apparently without fear in February 2017 in an upscale home in the western Mexico city of Tepic, near the Pacific coast. Patrón Sánchez headed the cartel’s operations in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit and in the southern part of Jalisco state.
In 2017, President Donald Trump had just taken office and, casting doubt on Mexico’s ability to reign in drug traffickers, had issued an insulting offer to send U.S. forces down to Mexico to sort things out.
Mexico’s answer appeared to come when marines — who are controlled by the navy, not Cienfuegos' army — launched a raid on Patrón Sánchez’s hideout, complete with the firing of a storm of bullets at the home from an electronically-controlled “minigun” machine gun mounted on a helicopter.
Night-time footage showed how the helicopter's minigun — a weapon usually used only in war zones and capable of firing thousands of rounds per minute — lit up the night sky over the city.
Patrón Sánchez and his seven accomplices opened fire on the marines and barricaded themselves in the upper part of the house. The Navy said a grenade launcher and several rifles and pistols were found at the scene. Officials said the helicopter gunship had been called in to provide “dissuasive fire,” to suppress outgoing gunfire from the structure.