Profile: Emma Coronel – the inevitable fall of the loyal wife of ‘El Chapo’

The spouse of the most powerful drug lord in the world was arrested on Monday, accused of trafficking and helping her husband escape from prison in 2015

Elena Reina

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Emma Coronel en Estados Unidos
Emma Coronel outside the United States district court in New York.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)

To pass the security checkpoint at New York’s federal court, you have to take off your stilettos. Emma Coronel, the wife of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, the most powerful drug trafficker in the world, drew the attention of the world’s tabloid press over the course of the 11-week trial that ended with a life sentence for her husband in 2019. Her stylish appearance during the court hearings saw her dubbed “the Kardashian of Sinaloa,” in reference to the reality TV stars the Kardashians and the name of her husband’s narcotics cartel.

She was the wife of the world’s most-wanted man, the most-dangerous capo in the drug trade. And she did actually end up taking part in a reality show in the United States, where other heirs to the drug empire spoke about Coronel as if she were an inspiration for them. Some of them were children or nephews of figures from the Colombian and Mexican drug trades. But she was “the wife” – Mrs El Chapo.

When Coronel met Guzmán Loera, she was 17 and had just won the Sinaloa beauty contest. He was 51 and the master of the biggest criminal organization in the world

On Monday, the morbid interest in her private life that some US television networks had managed to exploit ended up crashing down to Earth as reality caught up with her. Coronel was arrested in Washington Dulles International Airport on Monday, accused of participating in international drug trafficking.

Coronel, who is aged 31 and has joint US and Mexican nationality, is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana for importation into the US, according to a statement from the US Justice Department. On Tuesday, she is due to appear via video conference in a federal court in Washington D.C..

What’s more, she is accused of having helped El Chapo to carry out one of the highest-profile escapes in history. In the summer of 2015, he managed to break out of his high-security prison in El Altiplano, Mexico, via a tunnel that connected the shower in his cell with a safe house via rails and a motorcycle. According to the US authorities, Coronel and other trusted members of Guzmán’s circle were planning another escape in 2017, just before the drug kingpin was extradited to the United States.

Emma Coronel, in a scene from the reality TV program ‘Cartel Crew.’
Emma Coronel, in a scene from the reality TV program ‘Cartel Crew.’VH1

Coronel met Guzmán Loera at a ranch party. She was aged 17 and had just won the Sinaloa beauty contest. He was 51 and was already the master of the biggest criminal organization in the world. While she danced at the party with her then-boyfriend, a man approached her and told her that the “señor” wanted to dance with her. “‘Of course,’ I told him. Because at ranches even if you have a boyfriend you have to dance with anyone who asks,” she explained during an interview with the Telemundo television network. That and the fact that in the context of the Mexican criminal empire, saying no to the bosses can be a very costly mistake.

Coronel is the third wife of Guzmán, and she has always defended him. “He is a good man,” she said in the same interview. “He is not violent, nor rude, and I have never seen him say a bad word. His daughters adore him and constantly ask after him. I have no knowledge that he trafficks drugs. I’m in love with him,” she would always insist when in front of the cameras.

She is also the alleged niece of Ignacio Coronel, one of her husband’s lieutenants, something that she has denied. “We are not family,” she categorically stated in the aforementioned interview. The surname “Coronel” carries a lot of weight with it in the criminal history of Mexico. Ignacio Coronel was known as “the crystal king,” thanks to his history as the main trafficker of methamphetamine to the US for at least 12 years, until he was gunned down in Zapopan, Jalisco in July 2010 during a shootout with the Mexican army. He was the number three in the Sinaloa cartel, under El Chapo and Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada, the only member of the group from that era who has still not been arrested. One of Ignacio Coronel’s children, Alejandro Coronel Mardueño, who may be Emma’s cousin, was kidnapped and murdered in 2010 when he was just 16 by his father’s rivals, the Beltrán Leyva cartel, sparking off a wave of violence in the country.

Coronel sought to capitalize on the fame that had been created by her image, creating a brand of clothing and merchandise of all kinds

Emma Coronel’s claims that she knew nothing about her husband’s business crumbled during the trial. In messages presented as evidence, Joaquín Guzmán gave her precise instructions about the way in which she should communicate. He advised her, for example, to use Blackberry cellphones, given that they used encryption, and that she should get in contact with a technician from the cartel to help her out. In another of the exchanges, Coronel told El Chapo that she thought the police were going to turn up at her house. “Do you have a weapon?” El Chapo asked her. She replied: “Yes, one of yours, the one you gave me.” Guzmán told her to hide it in a safe place. He also advised her to live life as normal, because he knew that the authorities would use her to locate him. The messages were sent between the end of 2011 and the start of 2012.

The wiretaps also confirmed the rumors that the drug kingpin was unfaithful to his wife. The FBI mentioned one of his collaborators, Agustina Cabanillas Acosta, who was arrested in a raid in February 2012, and who El Chapo referred to as “my love.” According to the messages, El Chapo also argued with Cabanillas Acosto about shipments of cocaine and marijuana and its sale in the United States.

'El Chapo' arrives in the United States after his extradition.
'El Chapo' arrives in the United States after his extradition.AP

Coronel sought to capitalize on the fame that had been created by her image, creating a brand of clothing and merchandise of all kinds – from hats and jerseys, to cellphone cases and t-shirts. The name El Chapo Guzmán was filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, with a logo that featured a lion’s head and those three words. She was not the only member of the family to create a business of this kind, and she sought to compete with another of the narco’s daughters (there are at least 10 children that he has recognized), Alejandrina Guzmán Salazar, who did the same thing with the brand name “El Chapo 701,” a reference to his prison number.

A TV advert on the VH1 channel touted an upcoming reality show featuring “Mrs. Chapo.” Appearing on the bow of a luxury white yacht, Coronel appeared smiling, dressed in white and wearing sunglasses that hid half of her face. “When the boss of all bosses calls you, you can’t say no,” said one of the protagonists, Michael Corleone Blanco, the youngest son of the Colombian drug trafficker Griselda Blanco de Trujillo. Welcome to the “Cartel Crew,” they said in the commercial. “She’s a true latina, loyal to her man,” Blanco added. In the coming days, the US justice system will be weighing up just how loyal she was to one of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world, who smuggled hundreds of tons of narcotics into the United States.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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