Translated by Otis B Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from a Zetatijuana article
[ Subject Matter: Engineers, El Chapo Guzman, tunnel building, Sinaloa Cartel
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required]
Far from the Mexican frontier from California to Arizona, in the storm drains of Culiacan, Sinaloa, and below "Altiplano" Cefereso no.1 in Alomoloya de Juarez, Mexico State, Joaquin Guzman Loera extended a network of underground passages both to distribute drugs and to escape from the authorities. The worlds most want Kingpin, discovered in Engineering, his best weapon and tool.
Reporter: Ines Garcia Ramos
In a cell of less than 8 square metres with a bed and a concrete floor, shower and toilet included, was the space where Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman waited for 1 year and 139 days, while under "Altiplano" a tunnel was excavated to facilitate his escape.
The leader of the Sinaloa Cartel who occupied cell number 20, in the supermax area of "Altiplano". The prison constructed to house 724 inmates, but since August 2014 has a inmate population of 1140, according to the statistics of the Federal Government.
The prison has three "ring fenced" security areas. The first is 100 m out from Chapo's cell (Otis: this is the "super max" area of Altiplano, 66% of Altiplano is maximum security only), the second area is out another 100 metres, and a third security area goes out another 170 metres past the second.
From the outside, these ring fenced areas, seem to isolate the prison, in the Santa Juana Colonia, in the Municipality of Almoloya de Juarez in the state of Mexico. The walls are only surpassed in height by the watchtowers, whose tips look out from the prison courtyards.
One used by the Army and the other used by the Federal Police, the Calle Rancho La Palma, the road to the prison is often confused with another that leads to the Ejidal Colonia. Because of the location of the prison, these roads are not used frequently, and mostly used by workers at the prison, a small taxi company operates opposite the entrance, with a few other small shops.
Only on visiting days does the number of people increase in the Santa Juana Colonia. Outside of that, pastures with horses and cows, surround the maximum security prison.
A few metres from the entrance of CEFERESO no.1, is a tank and a humvee of the Mexican Army, they are the only units to be found close to the prison.
The engineers in the service of "El Chapo"
A group of architects, engineers and consultants for ZETA, agree that the construction of the tunnel through which Chapo escaped, required a minimum investment of a 1,500,000 pesos, as well as input from specialist engineers and topographical experts.
The tunnel was constructed 1500 metres from the prison, in the car park of a farm and a house with three rooms, a bath, a kitchen together with amenities, some parts of which were still under construction.
According to information from the Government of the State of Mexico, the land where the tunnel construction began, belongs to Calixto Estrada Castle since 1989.
Measurements carried out weekly, indicate that the venue exceeds 2500 square meters. From the prison, the tunnel starts in the floor of the cell where El Chapo was imprisoned, in a rectangular form 50 cm wide by 1.5 metres tall.
This small passage connect to a vertical shaft of 10 metres with stairs leading down to the tunnel which extends in a direct line 1500 metres until it ends with another vertical duct junction with the exit in the house under construction.
The tunnel has a ventilation system made from PVC tubes with a system for oxygen injection and extraction of carbon dioxide, electric pumps, earth work supports made from wood and rails on which an adapted motorcycle removed earth which had been excavated, and as a means of transport for drilling machinery.
Tanks of oxygen, fuel, piping and wooden containers were also found in place.
These characteristics are not foreign to the narco tunnels of the Sinaloa cartel and found along the frontier of Mexico, from California to Arizona.
To have been transported in trucks with a capacity of 10 metres cubed, would have required 240 trips.
However, in this case the Secretary of the Government indicated that the earth had been spread out south east of the prison.
The resulting pile was 1 metre high and 2500 square metres in area. In its entirety the excavated earth could have totally filled and olympic stadium, mean while the tunnel length was equivalent to 15 football pitches.
The specialist consultants estimate that the tunnel took between 450 and 316 days, a little more than 45 weeks.
For example, considering four shifts of 6 hours had extracted four cubic metres of earth, depending on the hardness of the earth, they could have excavated up to 7.5 metres cubed per worked day.
Referring to the number of workers, the specialists conclude that an average of six people, a restriction on the number placed due to the narrowness of the tunnel.
While not dug with heavy machinery, the motorcycle found there served to accelerate the transfer of earth and materials.
In theory, the major part of the work was carried out with pick and shovel, and other assistance from tools like rotary drills for earth perforation.
El Chapo and the National Commission for Water excavating almost shoulder to shoulder
The Altiplano prison is bordered by line 2 of the Cutzamala system, a complex of aqueducts and pumping plants, which is amongst the largest in the world. It supplies water to both delegations of the Federal District and the Municipalities of the State of Mexico.
For example on the 12th of April of 2015, Conagua reported a water leak at kilometre 35 and 190 of line 2 of the aqueduct, in the town of Almoloya de Juarez, the prison is found at the start of Kilometer 40 and 242 of the same line that required two days of repairs.
In the works, were participating: 89 persons, that removed between 89 and 120 tons of earth, two excavators, and two retro-excavators, seven pumping teams, and 49 support vehicles like tractor trailers and trucks.
Weeks after, on Friday 1st of May, the mounds of earth produced by the excavation remained on the West side of the Prison. Reinforcing tubes weighing more than 25 tons, were resting on the side in the excavated tunnels.
Maximum security prison with minimum security foundations
After studying the engineering design ordered by "El Chapo", the prison authorities made a mistake putting "El Chapo" on the ground floor of the prison.
The narco trafficker not only counted on direct access to the floor of the prison, he was located in the basement of penitentiaries centre.
The depth of the concrete in the area in question, is about 12 centimetres, which was easily penetrated to create the opening in the floor through which "El Chapo" escaped.
The tunnel and its design follows the logic of other tunnels found in Sinaloa and Baja California constructed by the Sinaloa Cartel, digging under a bath or shower area.
When "El Chapo" was apprehended on 22nd of February of 2014, was on the fourth floor of a residential complex in Mazatlan. Days before, an operation failed to capture him, as he escaped through storm drains interconnected to houses and the drainage system in the city of Culiacan.
The entrance to the tunnels in his houses were under the bath tubs. ( Otis: see link to Chivis article on these tunnels).
The mark of "El Chapo" in the frontier narco-tunnels
Since the decade of the 1990's, more than 165 narco-tunnels have been discovered on the frontier between Mexico and the United States. Of these, 80 were detected between 2006 and 2015. According to the Department of National Security, the activity of narco-tunneling has increased 80% since 2008 and California is the region where the most sophisticated tunnels have been located.
Information from the Attorney General of California, indicates that the Sinaloa Cartel is the principal criminal organization in charge of constructing these tunnels. "The majority have been discovered in California and Arizona, territories controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel", explains the report.
Precisely in the frontiers of San Ysidro and Mesa de Otay, close to Tijuana and Calexico - Mexicali, has increased the activity in construction of these passages indicate sources of intelligence.
On average, the narco tunnels found had a length of 600 metres, even though some have reached over 3 kilometres. Almost all have ventilation systems, lights and rails, like the construction that penetrated Altiplano.
The more elaborate, were constructed with steel doors with hydraulic actuators, elevators and reinforced walls.
And in the drains of Sinaloa
In the drainage systems of Sinaloa, "El Chapo" had a network of tunnels of escape and for transit of drugs. Between the 13th and 17th of February 2014, days before the capture of the capo
personnel of the PGR and the Marines, discovered the interconnections of seven houses that had escape tunnels into the storm drains of Culiacan, Sinaloa.
The entrances to the tunnels were under bath tubs in the houses, the openings had a width of 40 cm, and the connections a length of 1 kilometre to connect with other properties of Guzman Loera.
In this manner, he had been escaping from the Federal Authorities trying to capture him. For example, in a house located in the Guadelupe de Culiacan Colonia, "El Chapo" managed to escape from the Marines, through a tunnel who entrance was found protected with a reinforced steel door under a bath.
The ducts were lined with wooden panels and were equipped with lighting and ventilation systems.
Three members of the Sinaloa Cartel, escaped from Culiacan Prison, through a tunnel, on May 26th 2014: Adelmo Niebla Gonzalez, Rmaon Ruiz Ojeda and Adrian Campos Hernandez, fled through the passage of 160 metres in length with an exit, as in the case of "El Chapo", a building.
The escape alerts
The DEA informed the Mexican Government for 16 months, of the plans of Guzman Loera to escape the Federal penitentiary. According to the Wall St Journal, American functionaries alerted their Mexican counterparts about the risk of escape of the Sinaloan Capo.
Original article in Spanish at Zetatijuana