Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s (AFP Photo/Alfredo Estrella)
Jailed Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is healthy and even learning English, US prosecutors argued, dismissing allegations from defense lawyers that the terms of his confinement are too harsh.
The 59-year-old, accused of running one of the world’s biggest drug empires and who escaped from prison twice in Mexico, has been held in solitary in New York since being extradited on January 19.
In a letter sent to Judge Brian Cogan on March 13, Guzman’s court-appointed lawyers said the isolation he is subjected to at a federal prison in New York is harming his physical and mental health.
They said Guzman has trouble breathing and suffers from a sore throat and headaches, and had been experiencing auditory hallucinations — he complains of hearing music in his cell even when his radio is turned off.
In a previous letter in February, the lawyers said Guzman is kept alone in a small windowless cell and leaves only for an hour of solitary exercise in another cell with a treadmill and stationary bicycle Monday to Friday.
His meals are passed through a slot in the door, the light is always on and Guzman never goes outside, it said.
But in a 40-page response released on Tuesday, Brooklyn prosecutors said Guzman’s tough terms of imprisonment must continue.
“While the defendant complains about his prison conditions, one of his own Mexican attorneys, Silvia Delgado, told the press that the defendant’s treatment in the United States has been far better than it was in Mexico, to the point that the defendant’s health is improving,” the prosecutors’ statement said.
And as for the charge that Guzman was starting to hear things, a prison psychologist determined he was just hearing the radio of a prison staffer, it added.
They also denied that Guzman is totally isolated, saying 30 people are authorized to visit him and on average he has 21 hours per week of meetings with lawyers and paralegals.
And during evening meetings “the paralegals appear to be teaching the defendant English, as well as reading to the defendant in Spanish.”
Mexican news reports have said Guzman is practically illiterate, having failed even to complete elementary school.
Guzman has pleaded not guilty to a 17-count indictment filed by US authorities. The first count alone — that of leading the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel — could mean life in prison if he is convicted. No trial date has been set.