Emma Coronel Aispuro had a glamorous life in New York, enjoying the benefits of her marriage to drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka El Chapo. Then she was arrested, and thrown in a Virginia jail. What happened to the queen of the drug-cartel world?
The windows of the jailhouse, the William Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, are rectangular slats, cut lengthwise into red brick and it’s where Emma Coronel Aispuro is held in solitary confinement, in a tiny cell.
Inside, says her lawyer Mariel Colón Miro, she reads novels, “romantic” ones, to pass the time.
The conditions of the jailhouse mark a sharp contrast with the life she once had.
A few months ago, she had plans to launch a clothing line, El Chapo Guzman. (The couple have style icon status in Mexico and his daughter has also made a foray into fashion using his name).
When I spoke with her in New York during her husband’s trial in 2019, she wore jewels, and an expensive watch.
Then earlier this year, Coronel, 31, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and charged with helping her drug lord husband run the notorious Sinaloa cartel. Guzman, 64, is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado supermax facility.
FBI officials said Coronel conspired to distribute cocaine and helped plan her husband’s escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.
Her story is a personal one, with a cheating husband, a mistress and a criminal enterprise. Yet it sheds light on the secretive world of drug cartels, and the women who inhabit them. A date for a trial has not been set. If found guilty, she could be sent to prison for life.
Setting aside the question of guilt or innocence, analysts who study the drug-trafficking world say that Coronel carved out an unusual role for herself. She was a public figure, an entrepreneur, and a gatekeeper, helping to control who had access to her husband while he was running the cartel.
Traditionally, drug traffickers’ wives are seen as “very sexual” and with “no agency”, says Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, a scholar at University of California in San Diego. Coronel was different: “She showed that women can hold positions of power.”
Wielding power in a cartel is a risky undertaking.
Derek Maltz, a former special agent in charge with the US drug enforcement administration, says: “When you’re in this business, you’re either going to get caught or you’re going to get killed.”
Coronel put on a brave face, with her plans for a fashion company, but federal investigators were closing in. As Maltz says: “The world was collapsing around her, the walls were coming down.” BBC