Entertainment Emma Coronel Aispuro went from beauty queen to the notorious El Chapo's wife. Then came her high-profile arrest
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Like all girls competing in the Coffee and Guava Festival beauty pageant in northern Mexico, 17-year-old Emma Coronel Aispuro was required to throw a party to announce her candidacy.
But Ms Coronel Aispuro's event had a rather unusual guest: the world's most powerful drug trafficker.
On the day of the event in 2007, a motorcade of 200 scooters ridden by armed men in black clothing and ski masks rolled into the tiny Mexican town of Canelas.
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Then six small planes descended from the sky. On board one of them was Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known to the world as El Chapo.
"As if it were part of his wardrobe, he wore a goat-horn AK-47 assault rifle across his chest," Mexican journalist Patricia Davila wrote in Proceso magazine.
The residents of Canelas have long shunned media attention about the night a local girl found love with a drug kingpin.
The town is, after all, located in the heart of a region known as Mexico's Golden Triangle.
The remote and mountainous region, close to Mexico's border with the United States, is a major hub of marijuana and opium production. Revealing secrets here can get you killed.
But Canelas locals say that by the party's end, the 47-year-old drug lord and the teen beauty queen were engaged.
El Chapo's Wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, Arrested in Virginia on Drug Trafficking Charges
Emma Coronel Aispuro was charged with conspiracy to illegally import and distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana.Aispuro, a 31-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and Mexico, was arrested at Dulles International Airport on Monday, according to a release from the Department of Justice. She was charged with conspiracy to unlawfully import and distribute at least one kilogram of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine, 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and at least 500 grams of methamphetamines.
Days later, the new fiance of El Chapo was also crowned the queen of the Coffee and Guava Festival.
To this day, Emma Coronel Aispuro insists she won in her own right and not, as Mexican media has reported, because her future husband bribed the judges.
The beauty contest would be the first of many instances where Ms Coronel would claim ignorance of the allegations swirling around her husband.
"I don't know my husband as the person they are trying to show him as,"for drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and murder.
"Rather I admire him as the human being that I met, and the one that I married."
She claimed they ran a humble irrigation farm, and she was simply a devoted wife and mother.
But two years after El Chapo was shuffled out of a New York courtroom in leg irons, the now 31-year-old Ms Coronel Aispuro was arrested at Dulles International Airport.
US detains wife of Mexican drug cartel chief El Chapo
Ex-beauty queen, daughter of an alleged senior Sinaloa cartel member arrested at Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC.Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, who regularly attended her husband’s trial two years ago, was arrested on Monday at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia and is expected to appear by video conference in a federal court in Washington on Tuesday.
US authorities allege she was not just the narco's wife, but allegedly a player in his international drug empire.
El Chapo was a fugitive when they married
As surprising as the news of her arrest might have been, she wasn't the first Coronel to get into trouble over alleged cartel links.
Prosecutors allege Ms Coronel Aispuro likely grew up with ties to the criminal world.
Her father, Inés Coronel Barrera, was arrested in 2013 along with one of his sons and other men in a warehouse with hundreds of pounds of marijuana.
El Chapo himself was a fugitive when they met, moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa after breaking out of prison in 2001.
Ms Coronel Aispurothat she and El Chapo started out as friends and he won her over with the way he treated her.
Whether it was indeed the love match that she implied or an "arrangement" designed to, Ms Coronel Aispuro went on to marry El Chapo in 2007 on her 18th birthday.
Emma's court appearance built her 'celebrity' image
El Chapo has remained a kind of mysterious folk figure in Mexico for decades, but Ms Coronel Aispuro's role once they were married seems even less clear. The dual US-Mexico citizen gave birth to twins in 2011 but stayed largely out of the public eye.
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Reporters following El Chapo's case say Ms Coronel Aispuro didn't grant them interviews but seemingly had a change of heart in the last couple of years. The former beauty queen also began to have more of a presence online.
"Coronel's celebrity cannot be understood without her Instagram account. In this sense she is a woman of her time — we need to remember that she is 31," lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Wollongong Macarena Iribarne said.
"Social media and reality shows today have given women and men linked with the cartels a platform that did not exist in the past."
Ms Coronel Aispuro accrued hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram despite having very few posts, although she has claimed she does not manage the account herself.
"[From] a strategic perspective … [being on social media] is not a very intelligent thing to do because at the end of the day, if you are linked with the more famous international [cartel] it does not seem a good idea to have that notoriety," Dr Iribarne said.
But it was her husband's New York trial in 2018 that catapulted Ms Coronel Aispuro to greater fame.
Dressed in designer clothes, she appeared in court daily, waving to Guzman as he stood accused of masterminding a huge drug conspiracy.
One day, her twin girls were shuffled into court wearing matching clothes, on another she orchestrated a different sartorial display of unity, wearing the same velvet jacket as her husband.
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And when details of how Guzmán's mistresses were used to help further his narcotics operation were recounted in court, she showed no emotion.
Yet it was also during this very trial that Ms Coronel Aispuro's alleged role in what has become El Chapo's best-known prison escape was revealed.
The trial that may have been her downfall
The story is like something out of a Hollywood film. In July 2015, El Chapo disappeared into a 1.6-kilometre tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum-security prison.
"It was a very humiliating moment for the Mexican government … they had a motorcycle waiting for him in the tunnel, the whole thing was ventilated," law expert Luis Gómez Romero said.
Years later, at Guzman's trial, a high-ranking cartel member told the court that it was Ms Coronel Aispuro who met with him and Guzmán's sons to help carry out plans for the escape.
They got a plot of land near the prison, arranged weapons, brought an armoured truck and even had a GPS wristwatch smuggled into Guzman's cell,
Far from appearing shaken by the revelations, Ms Coronel Aispuro continued to claim that they were normal, law-abiding citizens.
"I can only say that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am not perfect, but I consider myself a good human being who has never hurt anyone intentionally," she said at the end of the trial.
El Chapo was found guilty by a jury in February 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison. He's currently serving his term in a facility so secure it has been called the Alcatraz of the Rockies.
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Afterwards, Ms Coronel Aispuro released a statement thanking her mother and sister for taking care of the twins while she was in court.
She later talked of launching a fashion line in the US and in November 2019 made an appearance, saying people had judged her without knowing her.
As more time elapsed and with no news of any criminal proceedings against her following her husband's sentencing, Ms Coronel may have believed herself safe.
Meanwhile, authorities were quietly building a case. They allege Ms Coronel Aispuro conspired
"The defendant worked closely with the command and control structure of the drug trafficking organisation known as the Sinaloa cartel, most notably with her husband," Assistant US Attorney Anthony Narduzzi, the acting deputy chief of the Justice Department's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, said on Tuesday.
After appearing in court, Ms Coronel Aispuro was ordered to remain in detention until her defence proposes a bail package. She has not yet entered a plea.
A larger geopolitical tussle might be at play
Luis Gómez Romero was a practising lawyer in Mexico and an advisor to former president Vicente Fox's transitional government in 2000.
He's now a senior lecturer in human rights and constitutional law at the University of Wollongong and does not believe Ms Coronel Aispuro was a big fish within the Sinaloa drug cartel.
He suggests she was more likely targeted because of her celebrity status, and her arrest was a "symbolic" move by the United States.
"It doesn't seem like she has a main role in the cartel compared to the ones played by El Chapo's sons," he said.
"The relationship between Mexico and the United States very quickly cooled after [Joe] Biden's term began."
A key point of contention was the recent exoneration of an alleged drug lord nicknamed The Godfather.
Salvador Cienfuegos, a powerful military general, was arrested in Los Angeles in October 2020 on drugs charges, but the Trump administration sent him to Mexico to face justice in his home country.
Just five days before Mr Biden was sworn in as president, General Cienfuegos was absolved by Mexican authorities who claimed he had never met with criminals.
"The arrest of Emma Coronel, seemingly with no warning, is being regarded as a message from the Biden administration that the US will continue making these high-profile arrests with or without the consent of the current Mexican government," Dr Gomez said.
Behind the Hollywood depiction of the drug wars which can glamorise figures like El Chapo and Ms Coronel Aispuro, however, Dr Gomez says there is a horrifying reality.
"The official death toll for the drug wars is around 150,000 Mexicans who have lost their lives in drug-related crimes, and 73,000 have disappeared," he said.
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