Across Rio Grande from El Paso, Chapo’s newest home buzzes about cartel boss

The residents of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, are buzzing about their new neighbor, the world’s most famous living drug cartel leader.

Sinaloa Cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was transferred this past weekend from a maximum security prison near Mexico City to Cefereso No. 9, a federal penitentiary outside Juárez, the city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

Now people here are wondering what Chapo’s move might mean and whether the local facility is up to the task of holding the man who escaped from Mexico’s highest security prison not once, but twice – the second time last July, through a mile-long tunnel that opened up into the shower in his cell.

Two vendors in Samalayuca, the Old West-style town where the federal prison is located 20 miles south of Juárez, had a lively discussion about if he would escape.

“He’s gonna run,” said Arturo, a burrito seller who asked to be identified only by his first name. “[Chapo] prefers to die trying than go to the U.S.”

Not so, said Gilberto, the next vendor over who also didn’t want to be identified by his full name. “I bet you he won’t escape, and he is for sure going [to be extradited] to the U.S. He isn’t the boss anymore, compadre.”

Genaro Hernández, a lawyer who represents a few criminals currently in Cefereso No. 9, doesn’t believe the infrastructure of the facility is a problem.

“They have a very impressing security system and a good staff,” he told Fox News Latino. “The problem is El Chapo has corruption on his side. He isn’t going to dig a tunnel this time – he’s going to pay his way out through the main door.”

A number of Juárez residents are already tired of his presence in the border. On Thursday, acting mayor Javier González Mocken, asked at a press conference for the extradition “process for El Chapo to be accelerated … Ciudad Juárez has no interest in giving its attention to this person.”

Mexico’s National Security Commission said on a press release issued on Monday that the move was part of its security strategy to “rotate” more than 7,400 inmates across the country. But Cefereso #9 is not part of the rotation system.

Adding to the speculation, a Mexican judge ruled on Monday that Guzmán can be extradited to face charges in the U.S., but neither country has confirmed that Chapo’s extradition is moving forward.

Border security expert Howard Campbell, author of “Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez,” agrees the local prison won’t be able to hold Guzmán.

“Mexican prisons, especially this one, cannot contain Chapo,” Campbell told FNL. “So an extradition would be an easy exit for the Mexican government to get rid of him, and at the same time it is very convenient for the U.S. government, who has been trying for [a long time] to justify the war on drugs.”

Others have a grimmer idea of the reason for his prison transfer.

“He was brought here to be killed by the Juárez Cartel”, said Hector Dayer, a reporter for the local Norte newspaper. “Here in Juárez, everything is possible.”

Dayer – possibly recalling Juárez’s worst years, when more than 10,000 people were killed in a turf war between Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel and the local Juárez Cartel – pointed out that Guzmán has a lot of enemies in this particular prison: not just from the Juárez Cartel, but also members of Los Zetas, the ruthless Mexican cartel that regularly beheaded its victims, as well as other drug lords who now find themselves living on the same facility as El Chapo.

“The first thing the Cefereso authorities said to us when we learned about El Chapo’s transfer to Juárez was, ‘He is in bad shape and in need of constant medical attention,’” Dayer told FNL.

But for Eduardo Guerrero Durán, the chief of Mexico’s prison system, none of that is even a possibility.

“Guzmán life is not in danger. He is isolated from other prisoners, and there is a special group in charge of his security,” he told FNL.

Asked about Guzmán's presence in Juárez, taxi driver Marcos Ruiz answered with exasperation, “He’s been in the press so much that we are tired of hearing about El Chapo. He is something out the past.”

Luis Chaparro is a freelance journalist who splits his time between the U.S.-Mexico border and Mexico City. Follow him: @LuisKuryaki.

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