Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is Mexico's most infamous drug lord, was suddenly moved to a prison in the wee hours of Saturday morning. He was taken to the northern bordering city of Juarez in Mexico, which is right across the border from El Paso. The prison, Cefereso No. 9, has strong security but also ranks as the worst for inmate conditions in the federal penitentiary system.
El Chapo has escaped prison twice now. The first time he was on the lam for 13 years before being recaptured. The second escape only lasted six months, but Mexican officials want to assure that the infamous drug kingpin stays behind bars this time while he awaits extradition to the U.S.
The high-security operation was a surprise move, with Guzman's attorney not knowing about it until it was underway. One of Guzmán's lawyers, José Refugio Rodríguez, says it is a routine move and does not mean that they are moving forward with the extradition, which Guzman is fighting.
"It's a common practice that [the authorities] transfer prisoners around the country," Rodriguez said.
Mexico's National Human Rights Commission gave Cefereso No. 9 the worst score of its 21 federal prisons, according to the Associated Press. It rated a 6.63 out of 10 in the 2015 report. Although the prison had improved from its 2014 rating, areas of concern continued to be guaranteeing a dignified stay, prisoner safety, rehabilitation, inmates who had special requirements, and overcrowding, which is a common problem among Mexico's prison system. The only area that received good marks was on the "governability" of the prison.Juarez, once the murder capital of the world, has cleaned up its act. Crime is down 92 percent, and the local government is eager to show the world it can handle El Chapo, the Sinaloa cartel boss.
The governor of the state of Chihuahua, Governor Cesar Duarte, seems proud to have El Chapo in one of his prisons.
"The decision of having him brought here is because there will not be any escape. This speaks well of the state's [security] system, speaks very well of the environment that we are experiencing in Chihuahua and above all, the strengthening of institutions, which we have achieved."
Altiplano, the maximum security prison that El Chapo was transferred from, ranked as the 10th best amongst the federal prisons.
El Chapo is fighting extradition to the U.S., where he is wanted in seven different jurisdictions on drug charges. The extradition process is moving slowly, as Guzman's attorneys have filed injunctions against it. It is expected to take up to a year until the final ruling.Governmental officials say the move was due to security upgrades at Altiplano, the prison from which El Chapo twice escaped. Others believe it was to deter any plans of escape that may have been underway. Guzman's first escape from Altiplano was reportedly by walking out of prison with corrupt officials, but others say he was smuggled out via a laundry cart. The second escape was through the floor of his shower stall and through a mile-long tunnel. When Guzman was returned to prison the second time, security was tightened around him and was placed under constant camera observation in a cell with 16-inch layers of concrete and floors that were reinforced with metal bars. He also received a restriction on his visits.
Security analysts were surprised about the transfer to Juarez, where El Chapo claimed responsibility for the coveted smuggling corridor that brought violence and chaos to the city.
Juarez, eager to reclaim status, threatened producers of the movie, Sicario, for its negative portrayal of the city. Pope Francis visited inmates in Juarez in February, according to the Yucatan Times. The government of Chihuahua claims it is an endorsement about the improved conditions of the city.
[Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/AP Images]