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United States

'El Chapo' learns English in prison, struggles with 'harsh' conditions

Attorneys for the Sinaloa drug lord say that their client's lack of English is among many problems he faces since entering a U.S. maximum security prison. The local tap water doesn't agree with him, and he is being tortured - by imaginary Mexican music.
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18 Abr 2017 – 05:18 PM EDT
El Chapo extradition, Jan 19 2017 Crédito: AP

Among his complaints about jail conditions, Joaquín Guzmán, alias 'El Chapo,' says the local tap water disagrees with him, and his communication with the Lord is hampered by a priest who doesn't speak English.

Since he was extradited to the United States January 19 on charges of drug trafficking, murder and money laundering, Joaquín Guzmán - alias 'El Chapo' - is struggling to adapt to his jail conditions, according to legal documents filed by his attorneys.

"Mr. Guzman's limited ability to communicate with the staff in Spanish prevented him from understanding the process and obtaining the necessary forms," lawyers wrote in a memo dated April 14 and sent to the Judge Brian M. Cogan. A separate letter dated March 29 asked that Guzman be able to meet in the prison with a priest who spoke Spanish.

"Any interaction he has with 'religious personnel' has either been through pantomime or with the 'assistance' of a prison guard who speaks Spanish," the lawyers wrote, suggesting that his religious rights were being infringed.

The language barrier was an issue that was impacting the ability of his lawyers to defend him, according to the Federal Defenders of New York, officially assigned with his defense.

"No lawyer develops such trust by limiting their interactions to discussions of the facts and law controlling a given case," they wrote in a memo.

They have also argued that there could be a breach of lawyer-client confidentiality in prison monitoring of these meetings, an assumption rejected by the prosecution.

Bottled water, a radio and a clock

El Chapo is famously averse to spending time behind bars, having twice previously escaped from prison in Mexico.

But some of his complaints might appear far fetched for a prisoner at a maximum security facility in New York, known as 10 South, and facing a life time sentence.

According to one court filing, 'El Chapo' asked to buy bottled water - as the general population of prisoners can do - because the tap water irritated his throat. Guzman has since been granted six small bottles of water every two weeks.

He has also gotten a radio and a clock.

Cargando galería

The defense has asked the judge to allow Amnesty International to visit El Chapo, arguing that conditions at 10 South "appear to be unnecessarily harsh and to breach international standards for humane treatment." Amnesty has previously criticized conitions at 10 South.

His solitary confinement has also begun to have a psychological effect on Guzman, his defense lawyers say.

A March 13 request by the defense said that the Sinaloa drug lord suffers from auditory hallucinations, sometimes hearing Mexican music on a radio, even when his own is switched off.

Guzman visited a prison psychologist March 14, who determined that what he heard was a prison employee's radio.

But his defense insisted days later, on March 29, that El Chapo's mental health is deteriorating: "Unless Mexican music is playing on the radio, Mr. Guzman is listening to nonexistent sounds."

Letters to Emma

In another memo sent to the judge, the United States Attorney's Office announced that it would propose reducing prison restrictions so Guzman can communicate with his wife, Emma Coronel.

So far, Guzmán and Coronel have only been able to communicate through written messages, screened by prison authorities.

He has not communicated directly with his family since his January 19 extradition. Since February 3, he has been under special administrative measures designed to limit a high-risk prisoner's contact with the outside world.

For the prosecution, keeping him incommunicado is necessary "to address the defendant's extremely serious and dangerous behavior." In one court document prosecutors argued that Guzmán was involved in criminal activities while locked in a maximum-security jail in Mexico.

One of the reasons for the dispute are the hours that the Mexican drug lord spends alone in his high security cell. His lawyers say it's 23 hours a day. But the prosecution says that between January 19 and March 17 there were only five days in which he was not visited by his legal team. According to the prosecution he has met with them an average of 21 hours per week.

"These visits have lasted for numerous hours, with the near-daily visits totaling approximately five hours per day," according to a government report dated March 21. In the same document it specifies that on at least one occasion another prisoner was unable meet with his defense counsel due to the prolonged meetings between 'El Chapo' and his lawyers.

The government has raised the possibility that Guzmán's young daughters could visit him in the presence of the lawyers.

The defense rejected the proposal. The six-year-old twin daughters of Mr. Guzman and Ms. Coronel "are much too young to be expected to travel to another country, enter a high security prison, be locked in a small visiting booth with strangers while they sit behind a screen, and speak to their father without their mother present," the lawyers wrote back.