A soldier assigned to guard the northern Mexican jail currently holding Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was found dead last week, with signs of torture, and it’s not clear who’s responsible for his killing.
The body of Jorge Mauricio Melendez Herrera, 20, was discovered on Friday in an unpopulated area in western Ciudad Juarez.
Melendez Herrera was assigned to the “first filter of security” around the Federal Social Readaptation Center (Cefereso) No. 9, just outside of Ciudad Juarez.
He was one of 300 soldiers deployed to guard the prison after Guzmán was suddenly transferred there in early May. Authorities in Chihuahua state are investigating whether his killing is related to his role as a guard at the prison, according to Mexican newspaper Milenio, though it’s possible that the case could pass to federal authorities because of Melendez Herrera’s involvement in guarding Guzmán.
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It’s not yet clear why Melendez Herrera was killed or who was behind it. While fighting between cartels has eased in Ciudad Juarez in recent years, the city is not immune to violence, and, as a soldier, it’s possible that he may have become a target for reasons unrelated to his job guarding Guzmán.
Guzmán and his associates, however, are also likely to try to use intimidation and threats to subvert the security cordon that the Mexican government has erected around the prison. The deployment of soldiers, helicopters, and other units to secure the prison could be costing the Mexican government nearly 2 million pesos a week, Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider.
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In the wake of Guzmán’s last jailbreak (he has escaped from prison twice, in 2001 and 2015), 20 prison officials were arrested on charges of complicity in his escape, including a former head of the country’s prison system.
Last week, a judge issued new detention orders against 11 of the officials implicated in the escape, including the former director of the prison Guzmán broke out of.
If those officials were induced or enticed to help Guzmán, then it’s possible that he would attempt the same ruse again.
Guzmán “will also use the very, very common instrument of corruption and intimidation, and he could very well subvert the conditions [in prison]. It should be remembered … some of the structural weaknesses of the Mexican prison system are still there,” Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst, said at a conference in January.
“This was not just El Altiplano. This was systemic,” Hope added, referring to the prison that held Guzmán before his escape last summer. “So could he escape again? Short-term, no. Long-term, who knows.”