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Mental health of ‘El Chapo’ declining rapidly, claims legal team

Lawyers representing drug kingpin, who is awaiting trial in New York, call for better prison conditions

Lawyers representing Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán say the man once considered the world’s leading drug trafficker, who is now awaiting trial in New York, has lost all sense of time. The cause? Being held in isolation 23 hours a day in a prison cell with no windows or heating, which is damaging his mental health.

Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán arriving at New York. AP

Presenting a motion in a Brooklyn court on Monday calling for his conditions to be improved, they reported his claims he is having auditory hallucinations, hearing music, despite being denied access to radio and television.

Guzmán was extradited to the United States on January 19, and has since been held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, a maximum security facility that is notorious for its tough conditions, and which has been condemned by Amnesty International.

In their motion, Guzmán’s defense team says that there is no heating in his cell, he has insufficient clothing and is cold much of the time. The light in his cell is kept on permanently, making it difficult for him to know whether it is night or day. His federal lawyers say that a small timepiece Guzmán bought in the prison was confiscated.

Guzmán began suffering psychological problems while in custody in Mexico

Guzmán is allowed to watch one hour of television a day between Mondays and Fridays, but has been unable to do so. His guards say they have been instructed to limit his viewing but have been unable to find anything appropriate for him to watch, such as “National Geographic animal documentaries.” What’s more, his television-viewing time coincides with his hour of exercise, which takes place in a windowless room.

So far, Guzmán has only been allowed to talk to his lawyers, who are not allowed to pass on messages – even to and from his wife, Emma Coronel. His guards are not allowed to talk to him.

He now faces charges relating to 17 offenses and is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars. State attorneys say that as well as running the vast global drug-trafficking organization the Sinaloa cartel over the course of four decades, he is also responsible for thousands of deaths, kidnappings and torture around the world, particularly in Mexico.

Given that he has twice escaped from prison in Mexico, the US authorities have decided to take extreme precautions. But Guzmán’s lawyers say that his treatment violates the first, fifth, and sixth amendments of the US Constitution.

Guzmán has no contact with the outside world other than through his lawyers

Describing his situation as unsustainable, Guzmán’s legal team says he reportedly began suffering physical and psychological problems while in custody in Mexico, although he was held there in better conditions than now and was allowed to see his wife.

During his time in detention, Guzmán has requested to see a priest, receiving two visits. The first lasted a few minutes, because the priest did not speak Spanish, while the second used a guard to translate.

His defense team say in their motion that they fear the negative impact of the widespread media coverage of Guzmán’s case, with several books and motion pictures about his life either out or in the pipeline: Netflix has produced a series, and Ridley Scott is making a film about his life and times. Guzmán’s lawyers condemn the fact that their client cannot talk to the media to offer his version of events when a news story attributes a crime to him.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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