In stark contrast to recent stories about Mexican drug lords enjoying luxury lifestyles in their prison cells, the family of imprisoned capo Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, alias ‘El Padrino,’ have written an open letter complaining that the 67-year-old is being held in inhumane conditions.
Reportedly published as an almost full-page advert in various Mexico City newspapers, the letter states that Felix Gallardo is kept isolated from other inmates, prevented from doing exercise, and held in cells that are unhealthy, foul-smelling and dark. As punishment for smoking cigarettes, his right to personal visits was allegedly suspended last month.
According to the letter, the one-time godfather of Mexico’s drug cartels is being denied access to
medical treatment for his cataracts, deafness, ulcers and a hernia.
Credited with establishing the foundations of Mexico's present-day drug business, Felix Gallardo was the top leader of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s, and is behind the creation of today’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel.
The kingpin was arrested in 1989 and is currently serving a 40-year sentence for drug-trafficking, bribery and weapons offenses at the maximum security Altiplano Prison just outside Mexico City.
The complaints about his alleged mistreatment stand out from a raft of stories about Mexico’s cartel heads continuing to run their enterprises from behind bars, keeping up their opulent lifestyles, and even breaking out altogether. With an influx of inmates from President Calderon's crackdown on the cartels, prisons throughout the country are increasingly overcrowded and suffer from a lack of security and corrupt staff.
It was reported last month that Felix Gallardo’s niece Avila Beltran, also known as ‘La Reina del Pacifico,’ received plastic surgery and botox injections while imprisoned at the Santa Martha Acatitla woman's prison. How someone managed to deliver these services and get past security with the necessary equipment is a mystery.
Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias ‘El Chapo,’ likewise lived the high life inside jail, with conjugal visits from various females and specially prepared meals, before escaping in 2001.
Mexico has also seen a number of audacious prison breaks in recent months, with one of the biggest taking place in December 2010 when 151 inmates were freed from a prison close to Nuevo Laredo. This was allegedly organized by drug cartel the Zetas.
Some prisoners are apparently allowed to break out and then return again - in July 2010 there were reports that guards in a prison in Durango, northwest Mexico, had let prisoners leave the facility in order to carry out contract killings ordered by cartels.
Ironically, Felix Gallardo himself reportedly kept control of Mexico’s drug trade for many years after his arrest, coordinating activities from his jail via cell phone.
Prison security and corruption within penitentiaries is a rising concern across the region. In Guatemala, operations organized from behind bars were blamed for the explosion of a bus in January. Meanwhile in El Salvador authorities are working on measures to block cell phone signals around prisons due to the number of hits that are being ordered by capos from within jails. Mexico is reportedly developing similar plans.