On Tuesday, a judge ordered that Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, remain temporarily detained after being arrested at Dulles International Airport on drug trafficking charges. Coronel, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana in the U.S., faces 10 years to life in prison and a potential fine of $10 million. During her hearing on Tuesday, she was detained without bond after prosecutors argued she presented a flight risk and claimed that she “worked closely with the command and control structure of the drug trafficking organization known as the Sinaloa cartel – most notably with her husband.”
Coronel, a former beauty queen, married the then-54-year-old Guzmán on her 18th birthday in 2007 (yikes) after he spotted her in a beauty pageant at the coffee and guava festival in her hometown. For almost the entirety of their 14-year marriage, Guzmán has either been incarcerated or on the run from the government—he was technically a fugitive on their wedding day. During her husband’s 2018 trial, Coronel claimed to know nothing about the Sinaloa cartel that he ran, claiming that the couple had a modest irrigation firm. However, at the time, Guzmán’s former right-hand-man testified that Coronel had helped orchestrate her husband’s 2015 escape from prison.
Now, it seems that the U.S. government has even more evidence of Coronel’s involvement in the Sinaloa cartel. In an affidavit to the Washington D.C. district court, FBI agent Eric McGuire alleges that Coronel had full knowledge of her husband’s business, as both her father and brothers were also involved in the cartel. “Coronel knows and understands the Sinaloa cartel is the most prolific cartel in Mexico,” he wrote. “Coronel was aware of multi-ton cocaine shipments, multi-kilo heroin production, multi-ton marijuana shipments, and ton quantity methamphetamine shipments.” McGuire’s affidavit also quotes hand-written letters from Guzmán to others in the cartel that implicate his wife.
Falko Ernst, a senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group, speculated to The Guardian that the U.S. government is using Coronel’s arrest to make a point. “She’s a narco-celebrity. But in terms of her functions within the Sinaloa scene, she’s not a big player,” Ernst said. “This act of detaining her and keeping her in the United States is more a symbolic act. It perpetuates the message that the United States will still be a factor in what we call the ‘war on drugs’ here in Mexico.”