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CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) – Former drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán fled in 2014 when Mexican Marines surrounded him has recently undergone some changes as the Mexican government prepared to hand him over during ‘a national lottery.

Surveillance cameras that covered all angles of the exterior of the modest house have been removed. And the hole under a tub that Guzmán had slipped through to reach a network of tunnels was covered with a concrete slab.

The Associated Press gained access to the property in a quiet area of ​​Culiacan prior to the lottery. In recent weeks, the Mexican Institute for the Return of Stolen Goods to the People, known by its initials INDEP, has given it a new coat of white paint inside and out and has tiled the area of ​​the bathroom. bath where the tub and the tunnel entry point were.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke about the foreclosed property lottery, but made no mention of the history of this particular house. A sprawling house in one of Mexico City’s most upscale neighborhoods and a private box at the famous Azteca Stadium attracted more attention.

The INDEP website lists it only as “Casa en Culiacán”. It is approximately 2,800 square feet and is located, perhaps appropriately, in a neighborhood called Libertad, or “Freedom.” The government values ​​the two-bedroom house at $ 183,000.

The house had been abandoned for years and the Marines did some damage when they searched it, so repairs were needed.

Guzmán escaped this time through the tunnels, but his freedom lasted only a few days. On February 22, 2014, the Marines descended again, this time in a condo on the coast in Mazatlan.

By this time, Guzmán was already renowned for his daring escapes. He had escaped from one of Mexico’s maximum security prisons in 2001, allegedly in a laundry cart.

In July 2015, less than a year and a half after his capture in Mazatlan, Guzmán slipped into a tunnel dug to the sewer of his cell’s shower and drove a motorcycle on rails in a tunnel. to escape from another maximum security Mexican prison.

The Marines captured him again six months later in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where he had been locked in another mundane house.

Guzmán was extradited to the United States, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison in July 2019.

INDEP officials, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak, said they were surprised the house received attention. It is not luxurious. There is no swimming pool, none of the ostentation that characterizes other narco properties in Sinaloa.

People nearby said they didn’t know who their neighbor was.

“We never knew anything, we never knew who lived there, we never saw anyone,” said a neighbor, who quickly cut off the conversation. Many locals are not interested in talking about Guzmán or even saying his name in a place where the Sinaloa cartel remains strong.

The house was well situated for its previous uses. There is only a neighbor on one side. On the other, an underground storm sewer – Culiacan built hundreds of kilometers to cope with torrential rains – where the toilet tunnel connects to allow Guzmán’s escape. A school is across the street.

On the morning of February 17, 2014, the neighborhood suddenly filled up with gray marine trucks. They blocked off traffic. There was no doubt that they were interested in the seemingly mundane house.

But they did not find Guzmán there. In fact, during his trial in the United States, a witness said that Guzmán was not in any of the five houses searched by the Marines, despite reports to the contrary at the time.

Five days later, the Marines caught up with Guzmán 125 miles south in Mazatlan, where he was staying with his wife Emma Coronel and their twin daughters.

INDEP attempted to auction the house last year. It started the auction at around $ 130,000. There were no takers.

Now López Obrador is giving it away as part of the lottery, with the draw scheduled for Wednesday, the eve of Mexico’s Independence Day. This is the first time that the Mexican National Lottery has distributed goods. Profits will be donated to Mexican Olympic athletes.

“This raffle is very important and I call on all people, those who can help buy a ticket, or two or three,” López Obrador said at his daily press conference last week.

In downtown Mexico City, lottery ticket vendors said sales were good.

Jorge López said he has been selling 100 to 120 tickets at $ 12 a day since last week. “Right now it is selling very well. He said the value of the 22 prizes, much higher than that of House Culiacan, was drawing attention. Some people ask who the previous owners of the properties were, but not many, he said.

Back in Culiacan, on the other side of town near the center, Ignacio Mariscal said he supported the lottery. “These houses were of no use to anyone; these people had them, ”said Mariscal. “I see it as perfectly fine. It’s to help people in need.

AP writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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