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New prison for drug boss ‘El Chapo’ is Mexico’s worst-rated

Officials said that El Chapo is being held in a maximum-security wing where the same protocols are being enforced as in Altiplano

Published: Updated:

Questions arose on both sides of the border about the decision to relocate convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to a region that is one of his cartel’s strongholds, and a Mexican security official acknowledged Sunday that the sudden transfer was to a less-secure prison.

The official said that in general the Cefereso No. 9 prison on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, is not as impregnable as the maximum-security Altiplano facility near Mexico City where he had been held. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss Guzman’s case publicly and agreed to do so only if not quoted by name.

The official said, however, that Guzman is being held in a maximum-security wing where the same protocols are being enforced as in Altiplano, including 24-hour monitoring via a camera in his cell.

But Michael Vigil, the former head of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, wondered at the logic of sending Guzman to a lesser lockup in territory firmly controlled by his Sinaloa cartel underlings.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Vigil said. “He has that part of his empire, he has the infrastructure there and he has people who would assist him in terms of engineering him another escape.”

Officials have not said why they chose Cefereso No. 9 over the 19 other options in the federal penitentiary system for Guzman’s surprise, pre-dawn transfer in a high-security operation Saturday.

Some Mexican media have speculated it was a prelude to imminent extradition to the US, where he faces drug charges in seven jurisdictions. But authorities denied that.

The security official said Guzman is still in the middle of the extradition process. The Foreign Relations Department has the final say, and Guzman’s lawyers still have opportunities to appeal.

A lawyer for Guzman confirmed Saturday that his defense continues to fight the drug lord being sent to the US, and officials have said it could take up to a year to reach a final ruling.

Multiple analysts told The Associated Press that there was no sign of a link between the prison switch and extradition.

“In the past, when they’re going to extradite people, they just put them on a plane and they just fly them into the United States,” Vigil said. “They don’t pre-position people. ... He was not pre-positioned in Juarez to get kicked across the border.