El Chapo Guzman and "La Barbie" Organize 1,000 Inmate Hunger Strike

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, arrested in February, is in solitary confinement at Altiplano Maximum Security Prison. Édgar Valdez Villarreal, aka "La Barbie" is in the same prison. The two at one time worked together, but later became enemies when La Barbie jumped ship to Beltran-Leyva. But their joint interest in the conditions of their confinement apparently trump old feuds, as the two have engineered a hunger strike (article in spanish)among 1,000 of the prison's inmates, to protest the violation of their human rights. It began Wednesday, and will continue indefinitely. [More...]

Among their complaints: [More...]

  • inadequate medical attention and not providing medication
  • rotten food (20 inmates got sick last week from eating spoiled chicken.)
  • not regularly laundering their prison uniforms
  • no underwear
  • no access to commissary to buy toiletries
  • withholding of family visits and phone calls

In May, at another Mexican maximum security prison, 450 inmates got food poisoning from rotten or contaminated food served during family visits. (State prisons in the U.S. also have this problem.)

Interestingly, while the two are not housed near each other or allowed to communicate with each other, and El Chapo is in solitary confinement, they were still able to jointly develop their planned hunger strike and implement it. It sounds to me like El Chapo and El Barbie have cell phones. If Mexico thought imprisoning El Chapo would neutralize him, it was wrong.

This isn't La Barbie's first hunger strike at Altiplano. Nor are they the first to complain about Altiplano. One of the major druglords of the 70's and 80's, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, has been at Altiplano for over 20 years. His family wrote a letter with similar complaints that was published in 2011.

They claim he is being held in "inhuman" circumstances in a special lockdown section amid "unhealthy conditions, humidity, a lack of ventilation, bad odors and darkness."

A 2013 report on the state of Mexico's prisons found:

Overpopulation and poor prison conditions not only are turning Mexican penitentiaries into time bombs, but they also are making it impossible to meet the Constitution’s goal of reintegrating inmates into society. Under these conditions, convicts’ human rights are vulnerable and constantly violated.

From the U.S. State Department's 2013 report on human rights in Mexico:

©orruption, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, and loss of security and control were prevalent in most facilities. As of August 31, a total of 1,060 prisoners had filed complaints with the CNDH alleging human rights abuses while in detention.

...Health and sanitary conditions were poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Prisons often were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt guards, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Prisoners often had to bribe guards to acquire food, medicine, and other necessities.

...The CNDH reported in September 2012 that organized crime controlled 60 percent of prisons. The CNDH indicated that prisons in the Federal District, Mexico State, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tabasco, and Nayarit had the worst prison conditions.

How's this for a disconnect? The American Correctional Association started accrediting Mexico's prisons in 2008. We provided training and sent officials to conduct audits.

Sponsored by the Merida Initiative, an agreement between the governments of the United States, Mexico and other Central American nations, the accreditation by ACA of the facilities of the Mexico Federal Prison System signifies the commitment of the governments of Mexico and the United States in combatting the drug-related violence that is gripping Mexico.

One of the first four to apply was Altiplano. In an audit in 2012, it passed with flying colors:

CEFERESO No. 1 "Altiplano": 100 percent compliance on mandatory standards and 94.2 percent compliance on non-mandatory standards.

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