Jailed Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s team of supporters has launched a media campaign in which, despite the rhetoric about fast-tracking the kingpin's extradition, the objective appears to be improving his conditions in prison in Mexico, not preparing the ground for his arrival in the US.
The campaign is mostly focused on his conditions in jail in Mexico. On Friday March 4, two attorneys on El Chapo’s legal team and a group of supporters protested outside of Altiplano, the maximum-security prison where he is currently incarcerated, claiming that the drug lord is being subjected to harsh treatment, according to the Associated Press.
In a recent interview last month with Telemundo and published in the Los Angeles Times, El Chapo’s wife Emma Coronel Aispuro claimed that her husband is “slowly being tortured” in Altiplano, the same maximum-security federal prison he escaped from in July 2015. Referring to guards at the prison, Coronel alleged, “They don’t let him sleep. He has no privacy, not even to go to the restroom.”
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The Guardian published an interview March 4, with Rosa Isela Guzmán Ortiz, who claims to be Guzmán's oldest daughter, who also expressed concern for El Chapo's health in prison.
The steady campaign comes amidst mixed signals about El Chapo's possible extradition. Last month, José Refugio Rodríguez, an attorney working on El Chapo’s defense, claimed that Guzmán was prepared to “accept his culpability for the charges that the United States seeks” so long as the US agrees to not incarcerate him in a maximum-security prison.
This week, one of Guzmán’s lawyers, José Luís González Meza, was photographed wearing an “Extradition Never!!!” shirt adorned with a portrait of Guzmán. González Meza also called for a hunger strike in support of his client.
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El Chapo is seeking leverage with the Mexican government, not the US. Extradition, interviews and protests appear to be his best tools.
Renato Sales, Mexico's National security commissioner, said the goal of the media blitz, including the interviews with Coronel and Guzmán Ortíz and the protests on Friday, is to "make this subject a victim to loosen his security," according to the Associated Press.
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The Mexican government, however, appears unfazed. Defending allegations of mistreatment in Altiplano, Rales said, "We can’t forget that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has profoundly harmed our society, his actions have caused the deaths of many Mexicans, he has poisoned our young people and destroyed entire families."
What's more, on extradition at least, El Chapo appears to be bluffing about his willingness to go to the US earlier rather than later. There are many who believe he would speak openly about his relationships with Mexican officials and politicians, if he were extradited. But his lawyers continue to file injunction after injunction in an effort to slow the process. And the protests seem to indicate that he thinks he will be in Mexico's Altiplano Prison for the foreseeable future.
If extradited to the US, Guzmán may face murder charges in New York.