Convicted drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is depressed and suffering hallucinations and memory loss because of harsh conditions in the Mexican prison where he is jailed, according to his lawyers and a psychiatrist who recently visited him.
Guzman, the head of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, who famously escaped two high-security Mexican prisons before being recaptured this year, complained to the doctor about "psychological torture" inflicted on him by guards, according to a report made public Wednesday.
In the doctor's report, Guzman described a prison cell where the lights are kept on 24 hours a day and his only human contact is with masked guards. He complained of being awoken every four hours to appear on camera for an inmate roll call.
"They do not let me sleep," said Guzman, who is fighting extradition to the United States.
There is probably no more closely watched inmate in Mexico than Guzman, a notorious escape artist whose two daring flights from prison have made him something of a folk hero here. Since he was moved from a high-security prison in Mexico City to a different facility in Juarez earlier this year, "everything has become hell," Guzman told the doctor.
"He doesn't know when is day and when is night," said his attorney, José Refugio Rodríguez, who has filed numerous appeals to stop Guzman's extradition to the U.S., which Mexican officials hope to carry out as soon as January. "He lives in constant anguish."
Refugio said he received "a desperate message" from Guzman on Friday saying he was suffering hallucinations and "felt he was going to die."
The message prompted Guzman's wife, Emma Coronel, to file a complaint Monday with the National Human Rights Commission.
Coronel complained that Guzman's conditions, which include complete isolation from other prisoners and limited outside visitors, are inflicting "irreparable" psychological damage. She said conditions could kill him or make him "go crazy" in a matter of months. She also complained that her conjugal visits with her husband had been reduced to two hours a week, from four. Mexican officials deny Guzman's rights are being violated, and have suggested the reports of his bad treatment are part of a strategy to slow his extradition.
National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia told a radio journalist Tuesday that Guzman has had 35 visits from family members and 33 visits from his lawyers since being transfered to the Juarez prison.
"The truth is he has not been subjected to torture, of course, or any degrading or inhuman treatment," said Sales, who said Guzman's isolation from other prisoners is typical of the country's most highly guarded inmates.
Keeping Guzman behind bars has been a priority for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who suffered a major embarrassment in July 2015 when Guzman broke out of Altiplano prison near Mexico City via a milelong tunnel. Guzman was captured in January, but not after he conducted a secret interview with actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo, another humiliation for Peña Nieto.
It was Guzman's second daring escape.
In 2001, he escaped from another high-security Mexican prison hidden in a load of laundry, probably with help from bribed prison staff. During his years on the lam, he helped build the Sinaloa cartel into one of the world's most powerful drug trafficking organizations.
Earlier this year, a Mexican judge granted approval to extradition petitions from federal prosecutors in San Diego and southern Texas.
In California, Guzman faces charges of conspiracy to import and possess cocaine for the purpose of distribution. In Texas, Guzman faces various charges including criminal conspiracy, crimes against public health, organized crime, firearms violations, murder and money laundering.
Appeals by his lawyers have so far been denied.
In the doctor's report, Guzman—whose cartel is responsible for countless deaths and other brutality--said the psychological conditions were worse than any physical violence.
"They have not beaten me, but I would prefer that," he said.