Mexico’s government is moving Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman constantly from cell to cell inside the maximum security prison where he is being held, the same lockup the elusive drug lord escaped from through a tunnel six months ago.
Government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said Guzman has been moved eight times at the Altiplano prison since he was recaptured Friday. The prison also now has 24-hour video surveillance of Guzman, including all parts of his cell. The cell from which he escaped in July had a blind spot around the shower, which officials at the time said was intended to protect inmates’ privacy.
“He is being changed from cell to cell without a pattern… he is only spending hours or a couple of days in the same cell,” Sanchez said.
July’s escape was Guzman’s second from a maximum security prison and it deeply embarrassed the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto. It also created friction with Washington, which had sought his extradition to the United States. This time around, Mexican officials have said they are willing to extradite Guzman but warn the process could take a year. In the meantime, they appear to be taking extraordinary measures to prevent a third escape.
Guzman’s recapture followed the most intensive manhunt in modern Mexican history, with at least 2,500 security and intelligence agents dedicated to getting him.
The government says the hunt involved piecing together information from intelligence, data, interrogations and raids.
Federal officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name said that a significant part of the 2,500-strong force hunting the drug lord were soldiers sent into the mountains where he was hiding, to set up a security perimeter.
While Mexican authorities had spent decades chasing Guzman, the chase following his July escape from a top-security prison was different for two reasons, said a former government intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the case.
“One, El Chapo stopped being clandestine. He left the mountain. He met with people, as we now know. That made it easier for intelligence units to find him,” said the ex-official, who maintains sources inside security operations. “The other factor: there were, from the time of the escape, 2,500 people from various security agencies exclusively dedicated … to mount a successful operation.”
Even so, it took six months to catch him, with Mexican news media carrying repeated reports of marine raids into the mountains of Guzman’s native Sinaloa state.
Guzman was nabbed early Friday morning after a shootout in the city of Los Mochis that killed five of his men and wounded one marine.
The former official interviewed Guzman when he was arrested the first time in 1993 and led operations over the years in the remote mountains of Sinaloa and Durango states, known as the Golden Triangle, after Guzman first escaped a maximum security facility in 2001. He said the size of those operations involved only around 60 troops, not hundreds.
“It was obviously expensive, but they knew they had to flush Chapo Guzman out,” said Michael Vigil, former head of international operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration, who also was briefed on the operation. “The only way was by saturating the area where he was.