Before July 12, no one had ever escaped from Mexico’s Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1, better known as Altiplano.
Then Joaquin Guzman Loera, better known as El Chapo, escaped from what is widely considered to be the most secure prison facility in a country of 120 million people.
This was far from the only instance that the head of the Sinaloa cartel, a drug baron and one-time member of the Forbes billionaires list who is in some way responsible for as many as 10,000 murders, had made a mockery of Mexico’s justice system. In 2001, Guzman broke out of a different Mexican prison by hiding in a laundry cart and with likely cooperation from prison staff.
The probability that Mexico’s most notorious criminal bribed his way out of Altiplano makes Guzman’s escape “Mexico’s worst nightmare” — especially since escape from Altiplano should have been inconceivable.
According to The New Yorker, airspace around the prison was designated a no-fly zone to prevent aerial escapes. In addition, airwaves in the region were reportedly restricted so that prisoners would not be able to communicate via smuggled cell phones.
In addition, Altiplano had a multitude of ground-level security measures. The entirety of the prison was covered in CCTV cameras and access control points. All entries into the prison have metal, drug, and explosive detectors, Mexican publication Milenio notes.
Ultimately, none of these measures stopped Guzman’s escape. On Saturday night, the prison’s security cameras recorded Guzman entering a shower. From his stall, Guzmanclimbeddown a 32-foot tall ladder into a recently constructed tunnel that was over a mile long. The tunnel was well ventilated, lighted, and even had a motorcycle on rails.
The tunnelterminatedat a house under construction outside of the prison walls. The scope of the prison break and the extraordinary amount of work that went into constructing the tunnel has raised suspicions that Guzman or the Sinaloa cartel bought off prison officials and even members of the Mexican government.
Guzman previouslyescapedthe high-security Puente Grande prison in 2001, also through bribery. Ultimately, 71 staff members and the warden of that prison were charged in connection with the escape.
Guzman’s escape from Altiplano likely involved the same sort of large-scale corruption. “Anyone who makes a mile-long tunnel from his cell and escapes on a motorcycle is necessarily in collusion with the government,” an unnamed Mexican official told The New Yorker.
Aside from the damage of having the head of Mexico’s largest drug cartel again at large, the escape calls into question the state of the country’s entire criminal justice system. Even the supposedly most intensely guarded prison in the country isn’t safe from the corruption and clientalism that has long characterised the Mexican state’s relationship with drug traffickers.
And Milenionotesthat Altiplano also holds cartel heads from across the country — including the Knight Templar’s notorious Servando “La Tuta” Gomez Martinez.Guzman has managed to escape from prison twice, and other incarcerated drug lords have reason to believe that they can pull off a similar feat.
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