Two years after the conviction and life sentence of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the cartel he once headed appears stronger than ever.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration threat assessment released in March said the Sinaloa cartel remains the most extensive such organization in Mexico and “maintains the widest national influence” in the U.S. The cartel is now heavily involved in trafficking fentanyl and methamphetamines along with cocaine and heroin, the DEA said.
It appears to be proof that the organization is much bigger than one man. But what about one woman?
U.S. authorities reportedly have high hopes for a break in their three-decade war with the cartel following the arrest in February of Emma Coronel Aispuro, El Chapo’s wife, and the mother of their twin daughters.
Coronel, 31, is being held without bail on a criminal complaint charging her with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, and with helping El Chapo escape from a Mexican prison in 2014. But language in the 12-page complaint suggests the feds’ interest in the former beauty queen, who married El Chapo when she was 19, goes deeper.
“Coronel grew up with knowledge of the narcotics trafficking industry,” the complaint says. “Coronel understood the scope of the Sinaloa cartel’s drug trafficking.”
That scope is massive, U.S. authorities say. The cartel controls drug trafficking in Mexico’s most crucial areas — along the Pacific Coast and the northern and southern borders, and is the gatekeeper along the U.S. southwestern border, controlling smuggling routes into California and Arizona. And the organization is as violent at it is ruthless. U.S. prosecutors say the cartel has been known to carry out murders, assassinations and torture just to protect its turf. Some believe Coronel could help break the cycle of violence.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, exits the federal courthouse during his trial in the Brooklyn borough of New York, February 5, 2019.
Jeenah Moon | Reuters
“She knows where all the bodies are buried, so to speak, and she can do a lot of damage to the Sinaloa cartel,” former DEA chief of international operations Mike Vigil said in an interview with CNBC’s “American Greed.”
Vigil, whose six books about the international drug trade include “Afghan Warlord,” published last fall, believes Coronel will ultimately cut a deal with U.S. authorities in hopes of protecting her daughters. He said she could do some real damage to the organization.
“She can give a lot of information, the drug routes, the sources of supply for cocaine, corrupt public officials, members of the Sinaloa cartel, things of that nature,” Vigil said.
Coronel, who has U.S. and Mexican citizenship and was charged in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has not entered a plea. In March, she waived her right to a preliminary hearing.
“We’re working on a possible plea deal,” her New York-based attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said in an…