Construction work outside the maximum security prison holding Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman has sparked fears the drugs kingpin may be trying to pull another audacious jailbreak.
El Chapo became the world’s most wanted man when he escaped from the same Altiplano prison in July through a mile long underground tunnel.
Digging of that tunnel, which took a year to construct – was muted by the ‘deafening drilling’ of building works directly adjacent to the prison.
Now back in the hands of the authorities, the latest digging outside the jail has prompted speculation that he is plotting yet another bid to get out.
And people living near the jail say if he is capable of getting out twice, he can do it a third time – as he fights extradition to the US.
‘El Chapo is a hero to many ordinary Mexicans for defying the government,’ said Teresa Lopez, who owns a hardware store beside the prison, ‘I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to escape again.’
The drug lord’s engineers bought much of the building materials for the tunnel from local traders, and Teresa hopes her business will benefit from any upcoming escape schemes.
With a knowing smile on her face, Teresa told MailOnline: ‘I don’t ask questions… If someone walks in with a north-western accent [the region of Mexico where Sinaloa state is located] and wants fifty kilos of dynamite, then I’m at their service.’
Following his last jailbreak, El Chapo himself gloatingly tweeted that ‘whatever happens twice, will certainly happen a third time’.
His son Alfredo, thought to be the direct heir to his father’s billion-dollar empire, has also hinted at new plans afoot.
‘Here we go again through this process,’ he tweeted 24 hours after the recapture of his father in Sinaloa state last week.
‘He’s got all the money in the world,’ said local woman Viviana Dominguez, referring to the drug lord’s estimated $1billion fortune.
She added: ‘As well as being the head of a very powerful criminal organisation… The law doesn’t apply to him like it does to others.’
Since El Chapo’s recapture there have been calls for his extradition to the United States, although Mexico’s Federal Attorney has stated such proceedings may take up to six years to happen.
‘That’s more than enough time for him to get out,’ said Viviana.
Santos Esquivel Sanchez, who spent 14 years in federal prison for involvement in organised crime, now runs a convenience store beside the Altiplano penitentiary.
He is less hopeful of seeing the Sinaloa Cartel boss’s third disappearing act.
He told MailOnline: ‘El Chapo seriously embarrassed the country’s government, and this time around they’re going to make him pay for it.
‘Even if that means sucking up their pride and handing him over to the Gringos.’
His original escape tunnel has not been blocked at either end, but the exit is heavily guarded by state and federal officers.
For this reason, the idea that El Chapo might use his original tunnel to escape the prison is unlikely.
The world’s most wanted man is thought to never spend two consecutive nights in the same room and is moved to a new, random cell by the prison guards every night.
The worksite around the prison, dedicated to the construction of a pipeline which will carry water to drought ridden Mexico City, is slung throughout with heavy machinery, excavation equipment and mountains of dirt.
The worksite also enters Altiplano’s grounds, although technicians negated any chance of escape through the pipeline itself.
‘The water pressure inside is far too great,’ one technician informed MailOnline. ‘If El Chapo managed to get into one of those pipes he’d be drowned or crushed within seconds.’
Security has been ramped up around Altiplano, with two military checkpoints required to pass within 500 metres of the perimeter fence, 24-hour federal police patrols, K-9 units and even two battle tanks guarding the main entrance.
Despite the high level of security, not a single Mexican soldier or Federal Police officer that MailOnline spoke to could say, with absolute certainty, that El Chapo would not escape for a third time.
‘Who knows?’ said one Federal Police officer charged with overseeing the security operation, who wished to remain anonymous.
‘The Sinaloa Cartel is better equipped than we are, and we’d have to put up a good fight if they came with their guns blazing.
‘But there’s certainly more pressure on us now to ensure that their boss remains in state custody’.
The prison director on whose watch El Chapo made his escape, Valentín Cárdenas Lerma, is now himself an inmate of the correctional facility.
Local residents say that activity around the prison has surged since El Chapo’s re-capture and some have been taking advantage of the increased traffic to launch their own moneymaking schemes.
Hilario Rodriguez, 17, who lives beside the only access route to the prison can be found, shovel in hand, constructing a speed bump on the road in order to slow traffic and ask for donations.
‘I hope El Chapo escapes soon’, he told MailOnline, ‘The more traffic that moves along this road, the more money I make’.
The construction of the water pipeline beside the maximum-security prison caused other inmates to complain of ‘heavy drilling noises’ during the days before El Chapo’s escape last July.
The invasive sounds have since been put down to the cartel’s engineering department surfacing their tunnel, equipped with air conditioning, fluorescent lighting and a motorbike for a speedy getaway, at the exact square metre of their boss’s cell that was invisible to the security camera.
El Chapo’s first prison break occurred in 2001, when he managed to smuggle himself out of Puente Grande penitentiary concealed inside a laundry basket. He remained free for thirteen years until his recapture in January 2014.