By: Carlos Álvarez Acevedo | Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat
Mexico City, July 14 (SinEmbargo) – The former leader of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), Flavio Sosa Villavicencio, gave SinEmbargo details of what it’s like being an inmate in the Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1 "Altiplano". A political prisoner for a year and a half there-he received an invitation to the governor’s office and was detained for sedition, robbery, kidnapping, injury, and aggravated dispossession- the oaxacan political activist didn’t agree with the description that was given yesterday by Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong.
Sosa was imprisoned from December 2006 to April 2008 in the same prison where Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alías “El Chapo” escaped from on Saturday by allegedly going through a tunnel that was more than a kilometer and a half long which he started in a small opening in his shower cell and ended in an abandoned house.
“In this prison, privacy doesn’t exist,” Sosa explained. In the version of the Secretary of the Interior, he indicated yesterday that “there were two blind spots” in the shower and toilets, for “humanitarian matters”. Those “blind spots”, Osorio said, were used by “El Chapo” to escape and buy time.
For starters, he said, it is hard to believe that “El Chapo” would shower on a Saturday night, when he supposedly stopped in front of the shower and then disappeared. The showers, he said, are only allowed to be used at six in the morning.
The social activist and former local deputy in Oaxaca said in an interview that “it is impossible to escape from a maximum security prison such as El Altiplano without complicity.” The cells are a capsule within a capsule, he said. The entire surveillance system must have been calm to achieve something like what “El Chapo” did, he said.
To escape without anyone noticing, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel needed complicity not only from the guards in the maximum security area, where his cell was, but also from the three corporations that are in there: the federal, those from the prison, and the special guard.
These three areas, he said, depend on different heads and are usually very suspicious and vigilant with each other.
Sosa was found not guilty in his criminal cases and later released in the administration of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. “The first 20 days were spent in the Observation and Classification Center (COC), to then be transferred to Special Treatment, in the cell 13,” Sosa said during the interview. This area, he adds, is the maximum security prison, in which he was assigned the prison number: 1801.
“The guards address you by your number, not by your name,” the former leader of the APPO said.
There Are No Blind Spots or Privacy
According to Osorio Chong, in order to protect the rights of the prisoners, the prison has those blind spots. “El Chapo” had them, the Secretary of the Interior said.
But Sosa said that that version of the maximum security area of El Altiplano is a very different one than what is lived when you’re in there. Unless it has been modified.
He said that this site has 20 cells divided into two halls, and each hall has 10 cells with reinforced steel doors. “As if they were two tunnels, each cell has an electronic gate that is closed with a special mechanism that is managed from the control center,” Sosa said.
In those 20 cells are those that the federal government considers the most dangerous in the country, said Sosa, who at that time, was considered one of them. “All of the cells have security cameras and lights, all the time, 24 hours.”
Sosa Villavicencio indicated that these 20 cells are in the maximum security area of El Altiplano, which in itself is considered to be in this way. “It’s an area of total isolation. Each prisoner spends 23 hours in their cell and one hour in the courtyard, which is actually another room without a ceiling, and without any contact with other people.”
Inmates do not live together and can’t look at each other, he said. “The cells of El Altiplano are like a tomb. They have a metal door and you can only look outwards through a peephole,” Sosa said.
However, he also said that it is prohibited to physically touch the door from the inside of the cell.
“The cell is very small. Everything made from concrete, the desk, the chair, and a cot that serves as a bed. Everything is fixed,” Sosa said.
Sosa said that the space is so small, that between the bed and the wall, a small corridor is made to allow the custodian to enter, without ever having physical contact with the prisoner, for routine checks or to leave the food tray.
“Then in front of your bed is a sink and a toilet, which has no bowl. There you defecate and urinate at ground level. The shower is on the right,” Sosa said.
“When I was there, there were cameras even in the shower. When you defecate, you are under camera surveillance. When you sleep, you can’t sleep with your face covered,” he said. Sosa repeated, with emphasis, that the cameras and lights are on 24 hours a day in El Altiplano.
“There are no blind spots, there’s only one under the concrete bed, but it’s a very small space,” Sosa said.
The former leader of the APPO told SinEmbargo that the revisions in the cells in El Altiplano are constant, at least three times each month. “When they call for a general revision, guards with dogs come hastily, however you are, if you are naked, too bad,” said Sosa.
“It can be 2AM, whichever time, at attention, but at ease, with hands behind. In this place, you always have to have your hands behind your back when you’re outside,” Sosa explained.
Sosa said that when revisions occur, guards take all of the prisoners to the corridors. “That’s our only contact between us; only out of the corner of your eye can you see someone. You are not allowed to turn; they hit your head against the wall. They undress you and make you give them all your belongings.”
The activist said that after they are removed from their cells, the guards order inmates to do three squats, while remaining undressed. He recounts that they open your mouths, they examine their testicles and anus, quickly, and then are dressed again.
Sosa joked that he used to think that when he got out of El Altiplano, he would become a stripper, because of how quickly he undressed and put on his clothes. “After you are dressed, they put you in front of your cell and search it carefully. They search the floor and hit the walls with hammers, dogs sniff everything. The interior is searched millimeter by millimeter,” all in order to detect special compartments.
Inside the cells, the guards read the letters of the prisoners, which cannot be written using a computer or a typewriter. “They have to be written by hand,” he said. “When you have many letters, the guards ask you to take them out,” he also adds.
You can’t even have a pen, only the pen refill which they sell you. You don’t have any right to have any kind of object. “I don’t know the reality of today, but it was impossible to communicate before,” Sosa said.
It’s hard to believe that “El Chapo” was showering on a Saturday night since the showers are only allowed to be used at 6 in the morning. “At a quarter to 6, a guard notifies you that you need to shower. You have 10 minutes, but it’s actually 6 or 8 because they rush you. They then give you a razor and you shave.”
“Then you have to change in the cell and you get yourself ready; you need to be neatly pressed or you will be reprimanded. Finally, you put yourself in front of the gate and they do a roll call, approximately between 7:00 and 7:15 in the morning,” said the former leader of the APPO.
“If on that day you have an issue in court, they take you to the office. There are four revisions: in the cell, arriving at the court, leaving these places, and entering your cell,” he said. “They only give you 10 minutes to eat. You practically have to gulp down the food, and then you have to deliver the tray rinsed. Finally, if at night you need to take a pill, they give it to you through the door at the gate around 8, then you eat dinner and then the authorities do a roll call between 6 or 7 at night. At 10, you have to sleep.”
The Inhuman Altiplano
Sosa also denounced that El Altiplano is an inhuman prison, in which human rights are not respected. “They provoke the lawyers to fight with the guards, so that they can be sanctioned and then the prisoners won’t have any legal representation,” said the former leader of the APPO in the interview. “No criminal, having committed what he has committed, should be in a place like this.”
He also reported that the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) is complicit in this situation, a “white elephant” to these humanitarian violations. “The people who visit the inmates have to pass through five or six customs in order to enter, without personal belongings.” He even said that pregnant women have to go through a metal detector.
Sosa told the story about when leaders of the International Red Cross visited him, they complained about the abuses from those responsible for the security of El Altiplano.
The Version of Osorio
According to the head of the SEGOB, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, during a message to the media on Monday night, “El Chapo” Guzmán managed to escape from two blind spots in the video surveillance and a strategy in which he managed to evade more than 750 cameras, 26 security checkpoints, as well as a security bracelet which had been placed on him.
Osorio said that in order to facilitate the proper conduct of investigation, the head of the administrative agency of Prevention and Rehabilitation, Juan Ignacio Hernández, and the Coordinator of the Federal Social Rehabilitation Centers, whose name appears to be confidential in the transparency website of the INAI, as well as the prison director of El Altiplano were resigned.
“Today’s fugitive must have benefited from the complicity of the staff” of the federal prison located in Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico, the secretary said, who also added during the questions and answers session that the capo “effectively required the blueprints” for his escape.
The leader of the Sinaloa Cartel had a security bracelet, but it didn’t have a GPS, which is only used for the inside of the prison and he cut it off before entering the tunnel.
“It is the only one that can be used, because, I want to say today, that the National Human Rights Commission does not allow the use of bracelets inside the prisons,” Osorio Chong justified.