A little over three months after arriving at a prison near the US border, Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is to be sent back to Altiplano prison in central Mexico, where he pulled off a brazen escape in July 2015.
A federal judge in Mexico's Chihuahua state ruled on August 17 that prison officials had transferred Guzmán in May without authorization.
Guzmán was suddenly transferred in the early hours of May 7 from Altiplano to Cefereso No. 9, a prison just outside Ciudad Juarez, which is across the border from El Paso. The move was allegedly made because a power outage at Altiplano stoked fears that the drug lord was plotting another escape.
But the short notice of the transfer and the distance of Cefereso No. 9 from Guzmán's legal team prompted protests, with Guzmán himself saying he wanted to go back to Altiplano. "He asked us that we would file an injunction to return him to Altiplano," said José Refugio Rodríguez, one of Guzmán's lawyers.
According to Rodríguez, granting the injunction declares null the transfer orders, "and, as a consequence of that, he will return to Altiplano."
"If they insist on the attitude of wanting a change of prison, they should present a request before a judge," said Refugio Rodríguez, who argued that federal penitentiary authorities did not have have the authority or the autonomy to move defendants freely.
While Guzmán's legal team was confident the transfer would be soon, the Mexican government could delay the move for weeks or months.
Federal authorities can still request a review of the judge's decision by another tribunal, which could delay a ruling that would finalize the matter for at least two months.
"They still haven't told us the date [of the move], for reasons of security, but already there is movement in Ciudad Juarez, it can be at any moment," Rodríguez said.
According to El Universal, over the last two days, airplanes and helicopters belonging to the federal government have appeared at Ciudad Juarez's international airport, and the roads connecting the airport to Cefereso No. 9 have been patrolled by personnel from the Mexican army and federal police.
The facility was already guarded by hundreds of agents deployed after Guzmán's transfer there.
The transfer order comes at an inopportune moment for the Mexican government. While the increased security presence around Cefereso No. 9 may be related to an impending transfer, it's also reportedly tied to the recent kidnapping of one of Guzmán's sons in Puerto Vallarta by the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG).
The kidnapping has raised concern that Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel and the CJNG — Mexico's most powerful cartels — are in conflict. If the cartels are warring, then Guzmán's transfer would no doubt present a target for the CJNG, which has in the past downed an army helicopter and ambushed federal police.
In a separate event earlier this week, Leonor García, the former security director at Altiplano prison, who was arrested with many others in the wake of Guzmán's July 2015 escape, was released on orders of a Mexican court.
Investigations after the breakout found security protocols weren't followed, and the Mexican attorney general's office has said it would consider whether to refile charges against García.
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