Latin America

‘El Chapo’ Guzmán — the most heavily guarded prisoner in the world

The Sinaloa cartel drug lord sleeps in a different cell each night

El Chapo Guzmán in his cell.
El Chapo Guzmán in his cell.Loret de Mola

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There is perhaps no other man in the world who is now more heavily guarded than Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán.

The Sinaloa cartel leader, who was recaptured earlier this month, is watched by security cameras 24 hours a day. He sleeps in a different cell each night and the dogs who help guard him are also his food tasters.

The controls at the El Altiplano prison outside Mexico City are so tight that even the security officers have their own guards watching over them.

El Chapo is being kept at the same maximum security facility from which he escaped on July 11 by fleeing through a tunnel dug underneath his cell.

The Mexican government is aware that if the notorious drug lord escapes again it would be a serious political blow

The Mexican government is aware that if the notorious drug lord escapes again – he has already fled on two prior occasions – it would be a serious political blow that could lead to the downfall of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

El Chapo, who is wanted in the United States, has always gotten his way. His appetite for freedom has been described in various psychological reports and his casual manner of bribing officials is legendary.

“El Chapo is now under a draconian system, with continued surveillance – without any blind spots – dogs, reinforced ground, etc,” said Alejandro Hope, former Mexican intelligence agency director. “But it is evident that he is going to do all he can to undermine those obstacles.”

In 2001, Guzmán escaped from the Puente Grande prison by hiding inside a laundry cart. Sixty-two prison officials, who were paid off, were charged for helping him escape. He survived on the run for eight years, living the life of a rich drug kingpin.

In February 2014, he was captured in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlán and taken to El Altiplano.

His thirst for freedom has been described in various psychological reports

With the help of prison authorities and a group of engineers on the outside, El Chapo again fled on July 11 of last year through a hole underneath his shower stall that led to the long tunnel.

There are some in the Mexican government who believe that El Chapo would be better guarded in a US penitentiary. Guzmán is wanted in at least six federal court jurisdictions in the United States.

But the extradition process, which is being challenged by his lawyers, is expected to be a long judicial battle that could take at least a year.

Until then, all measures are being taken to ensure that El Chapo’s cell cannot be penetrated from the outside: it is a cell inside another cell, according to a presidential spokesman.

According to sources, the failures that contributed to El Chapo’s escape last July have been corrected. He is no longer kept in one cell and visits are no longer permitted.

The extradition process, which is being challenged by his lawyers, is expected to be a long judicial battle that could take at least a year

To avoid any burrowing underneath his cells, workers have placed reinforced steel fences in the ground. A new underground alarm system has also been installed – suspiciously, the previous alarm did not go off when El Chapo escaped in July.

During El Chapo’s first five days at El Altiplano, after he was captured on January 8, he was moved between seven different cells.

When he is allowed to move about inside the prison, he is always handcuffed and accompanied by guard dogs who also serve as his food tasters to prevent anyone from poisoning him.

About a thousand new security cameras have been installed to monitor his movements and in the maximum security area there are also thermal sensors. The guards who approach him have security cameras in their helmets.

An elite team of about 35 officers is in charge of monitoring El Chapo’s movements, according to sources. A number of inmates have been relocated to help security.

Specialists believe that the chances of another escape are almost nil at this time. But they also know that as time passes security becomes more lax.

No one doubts that El Chapo is already drawing up his next plan. He fears extradition, knows El Altiplano prison well, and knows how to pay off officials.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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