Tuesday, March 22, 2011
In open letter, Mexican drug lord’s family claims he is mistreated in prison
By MARK STEVENSON
The imprisoned "godfather" of Mexican drug trafficking is looking more like a grandfather these days, with cataracts, deafness, ulcers and a hernia, his family wrote in a rare open letter to Mexico's top police official Tuesday.
The wife and children of imprisoned drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, 67, said in a letter to Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna that Felix Gallardo is not getting the proper medications for his multiple ailments and is being mistreated in prison. The letter was published as an almost full-page ad in Mexico City newspapers.
"For more than three years, without any justification, prison authorities have kept him segregated, isolated and without contact with other inmates, and have prevented him from participating in any physical, sports or educational activities," according to the letter, in which the family also gave their address: in a swanky southern Mexico City neighborhood.
Historically, the families of top Mexican drug traffickers seldom, if ever, make public statements or publish their addresses, though authorities often know where they live.
By tradition, relatives are not usually targeted by law enforcement officials unless there is hard evidence they participated in the drug trade or laundered drug money, and occasional police raids on the homes or detentions of traffickers' relatives have drawn criticism and even retaliatory attacks from crime gangs.
In a rare 2004 protest, about 100 people who identified themselves as wives and relatives of drug suspects demonstrated outside the Mexican Congress to demand better conditions at the Altiplano maximum-security prison just west of Mexico City, the same facility where Felix Gallardo is being held. The protesters would not identify the inmates they were related to, however.
But Felix Gallardo's family said they were moved to publish the open letter - in which they asked for a meeting with Garcia Luna - because 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." Arrested in 1989, he is serving a 40-year sentence on drug-trafficking, bribery and weapons convictions.
In the 1980s, Felix Gallardo commanded the Guadalajara cartel, then Mexico's most powerful gang, and what is considered a precursor of the brutal Sinaloa cartel. The gang also served as a training ground for many of today's top drug traffickers.
But lately, Felix Gallardo's biggest sin has allegedly been possessing cigarettes in his cell. Prison authorities canceled his rights to personal visits for four months starting in February as punishment, even though cigarettes are sold to inmates at the prison store, the family's letter claimed.
A spokesman from Garcia Luna's office said officials had no comment.
Felix Gallardo had been among the most flamboyant of the early drug lords in the 1970s and '80s. On one website, he appeared in old photos wearing tightly tailored shirts and bell-bottom pants. It was not clear if anyone connected to the imprisoned drug lord had operated the site, which has since been shut down.
It is hard for many Mexicans to think of Felix Gallardo as a victim; he is reputed to have punished a subordinate's alleged betrayal by killing the subordinate's children, cutting off the head of his wife, and sending the head to him in a box.
But the drug trade in his day was far less violent than the current round of cartel turf battles, which have cost more than 34,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon launched an anti-drug offensive in late 2006.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in the northwestern state of Sinaloa reported that seven men were shot to death in a town just south of the coastal city of Mazatlan. State prosecutors said a convoy of at least 10 vehicles carrying men armed with assault rifles drove into the town of El Espinal late Monday and opened fire on a group of residents who had gathered on the street to chat.
It was the second such large-scale killing in and around Mazatlan this month. On March 8, gunmen opened fire outside a nightclub in Mazatlan, killing six people.