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article imageMexico inmates decry worms in food, dirty conjugal beds

By Leticia Pineda (AFP)     Mar 3, 2015 in World

Some of Mexico's notorious criminals are complaining about "inhuman" conditions at a maximum-security prison, claiming they find worm in their food and deal with dirty mattresses in the room for conjugal visits.

Around 140 inmates at the El Altiplano prison listed their concerns in an 11-page letter to the National Human Rights Commission, asking the governmental agency to review their conditions.

The handwritten letter was signed by kidnappers, murderers and narco traffickers, including big names such as Sinaloa drug cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was captured early last year after a 13-year manhunt.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, is strewn with grammatical errors, claiming that "the imprisonment is in inhuman conditions."

It lists several irregularities, including plates of spoiled food or filled with maggots and rocks. The room for visits is "dirty" and contains broken furniture and windows.

The prisoners complain of a lack medical care and overcrowded cells. They are unable to communicate with other people and only get one hour outside per day.

The rooms for conjugal visits -- a right for prisoners in Mexico -- are in terrible condition, with "sagging mattresses, protruding springs and dirty from their use and bad cleaning."

- Infamous inmates -

The signees include drug lords who were used to a life of luxury, big homes and fancy cars.

In addition to Guzman, the letter was signed by the head of the Beltran Leyva crime family, Hector, who was captured last year, as well as the US-born Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez, who had fought for control of the cartel.

The letter was also signed by kidnapper Israel Vallarta, ex-boyfriend of Florence Cassez, a Frenchwoman whose jailing caused a diplomatic spat between Mexico and France. She was freed in 2013 after the Supreme Court found that police violated her rights by staging her arrest.

Servando "La Tuta" Gomez  sitting next to Mexican federal police  lands at the airport in ...
Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, sitting next to Mexican federal police, lands at the airport in Mexico City on February 27, 2015
Omar Torres, AFP/File

Other infamous names include Daniel Venegas Martinez and Aurelio Arizmendi, members of a kidnapping gang known for cutting off the ears of their victims and sending them to anxious families.

With one-meter (3.3-foot) thick walls, the facility was inaugurated in the early 1990s to make sure that Mexico's most hardened criminals never escape in a country where mass prison breaks are common. It is located 85 kilometers (53 miles) west of Mexico City.

One of the newest guests is Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, the leader of the cultish Knights Templar drug cartel, who was considered Mexico's most wanted man until he was arrested last Friday in western Michoacan state.

Gomez, 49, arrived in a prison where fellow inmates say they must contend with the stench from toilets, water leaks, constant clogging and rust that sprouts everywhere."

Last July, nearly 100 inmates went on a hunger strike to press the warden for better conditions.

- 'Human dignity' -

An official in the National Human Rights Commission said the national ombudsman received the letter on February 25 and will "study, review and assess the information" and will respond "in due time."

Reproduction taken on March 3  2015  in Mexico City  of a letter to the National Commission of Human...
Reproduction taken on March 3, 2015, in Mexico City, of a letter to the National Commission of Human Rights from criminals, drug dealers, murderers and kidnappers jailed in "El Altiplano" Mexico's highest-security prison
Ronaldo Schemidt, AFP

A spokesman for the National Security Commission, which oversees the prison system, refused to comment on the letter, saying his agency had not received an official notification from the ombudsman.

Sandra Salcedo, a human rights law expert at the Iberoamericana University, said even the worst criminals should be treated "with human dignity."

"One thinks that because they're scum, they don't deserve a minimum of respect," Salcedo said.

Whatever the rights commission concludes, she said, the conditions at most Mexican prisons are worrisome and bad jail conditions often lead to riots.

But the list of grievances was given short shrift on social media and online news commentaries, where Mexicans voiced contempt at the inmates' complaints. "Prison is a punishment, not a five-star hotel, damned criminals," wrote one reader on Proceso magazine's website.

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