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Notorious Mexican Criminals Say Prison Conditions Are Inhumane

Reproduction of a letter to the National Commission of Human Rights from criminals, drug dealers, murderers and kidnappers in "El Altiplano," Mexico's highest-security prison.
Ronaldo Schemidt
AFP/Getty Images
Reproduction of a letter to the National Commission of Human Rights from criminals, drug dealers, murderers and kidnappers in "El Altiplano," Mexico's highest-security prison.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission is dealing with a new case of alleged violations by federal officials. This complaint, however, comes from the country's most vicious and notorious criminals — more than 100 of them.

Nearly 140 prisoners at Mexico's maximum security prison say they're being housed in unsafe and inhumane conditions.

The prison known as "El Altiplano" is located in the state bordering Mexico City. It's said to have walls that are more than 3-feet thick to prevent breakouts or break-ins by trafficking allies who might be trying to free their bosses. The prison has a population of around 1,200 inmates, 250 of whom are considered "high risk" or "dangerous," according to BorderlandBeat.com.

El Altiplano holds an impressive list of Mexico's underworld, many of whom signed the 11-page, handwritten complaint.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who until his capture last year was the world's most wanted drug trafficker, signed it. So did Edgar Valdez Villarreal. Known as "La Barbie," Valdez was born in the U.S. and is notorious for his videotaped torture of victims. And the godfather of Mexican drug trafficking — that's his nickname, El Padrino — Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo signed it, too. Felix Gallardo was convicted more than 20 years ago of the murder of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

Dozens of murderers and kidnappers round out the signatories.

Their list of complaints is long — everything from spoiled food filled with worms and rocks, poor medical attention, denial of their 10-minute, biweekly telephone call, being held in dirty cells for 23 hours a day, and unsanitary conjugal visits. Conjugal visits are a right in Mexican prisons. The letter describes them as being held in dirty rooms with foul-smelling mattresses that have faulty springs.

Ruth Villanueva Castilleja of the National Human Rights Commission says the letter, which has been posted on several Mexican websites, has been received by her organization. It was delivered in February.

"Just like any other complaint," Villanueva told reporters, "it is being investigated."

Just how the letter was circulated and signed by so many prisoners, many of whom are longtime rivals and bitter enemies, is not known. Nor is anyone saying when the investigation into the former capos' and murderers' complaints will be completed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.

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