El Chapo’s wife Emma Coronel could hold the keys to the Sinaloa cartel

El Chapo’s wife Emma Coronel could hold the keys to the Sinaloa cartel

Two years after conviction and perpetuity of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the cartel he once led seems stronger than ever.

A US Drug Enforcement Administration Threat Assessment released in March, said the Sinaloa cartel remains the most important organization of its kind in Mexico and “maintains the greatest national influence” in the United States.

This seems to be proof that the organization is much bigger than one man. But what about a woman?

The American authorities would have high hopes of a break with their three-decade war with the cartel following the arrest in february Emma Coronel Aispuro, El Chapo’s wife and mother of their twins.

Coronel, 31, is being held without bail on a criminal complaint accusing her of conspiring to distribute narcotics and of helping El Chapo escape a Mexican prison in 2014. But the wording of the complaint 12 pages suggests the federal government’s interest in the former beauty queen, who married El Chapo at the age of 19, goes further.

“Coronel grew up with knowledge of the drug trafficking industry,” the complaint states. “Coronel understood the scale of the Sinaloa cartel drug trafficking.”

This reach is enormous, according to the American authorities. 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 southwestern border of the United States, controlling highways contraband to California and Arizona. And the organization is as violent as it is ruthless. US prosecutors say the cartel is known to commit murders, assassinations and torture only to protect its territory. Some believe Coronel could help break the cycle of violence.

Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, walks out of the federal courthouse during her trial in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York on 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.American greed. “

Vigil, whose six books on the international drug trade include “Afghan Warlord,” released last fall, believes Coronel will eventually strike a deal with U.S. officials in hopes of protecting her daughters. He said it could do real damage to the organization.

“She can give a lot of information, drug routes, sources of cocaine supply, corrupt public officials, members of the Sinaloa cartel, things of that nature,” Vigil said.

Trading positions

Coronel, who has U.S. and Mexican citizenship and was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, did not plead. In March, she waived her right to a preliminary hearing.

“We are working on a possible plea deal,” his New York-based lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said in an email to “American Greed.” “Things could be resolved in the coming weeks. He did not say whether a deal could include Coronel’s cooperation.

Lichtman has previously called rumors of Coronel’s potential cooperation “despicable”, warning that they endanger the lives of his client and his daughters.

In March, Lichtman told NBCUniversal’s Telemundo that his client didn’t have as much information as people think.

“It’s a popular belief, but it’s based on speculation,” Lichtman said, noting that El Chapo had been behind bars most of the time the couple got married. “It’s not like he’s been on the phone telling her prison secrets.”

Another expert on drug trafficking, Mexico City-based journalist Ioan Grillo, told “American Greed” that the Sinaloa cartel is so sprawling and decentralized that even Coronel would not have the secrets the authorities would need for it. bring down.

“I don’t think there are any serious cases, it would be a big blow,” said Grillo, whose latest book, “Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels, ” came out this year.

He said the cartel can easily switch to other routes if its existing supply lines are compromised. And while she was able to give up corrupt officials, there are many more where they come from.

“You can give information about political protection, but even then there is other political protection that people can get,” he said.

Vigil thinks the cartel may already be making adjustments just in case.

“The Sinaloa cartel is a very resilient cartel,” he said.

Yet Lichtman did not accept a deal for his client.

“I think anyone charged with a federal crime and facing a minimum 10-year sentence will certainly be willing to hear what the government has to say in terms of a negotiated settlement,” he told Telemundo in March.

Featured Witnesses

If Coronel were to switch, she wouldn’t be the first Sinaloa initiate to do so.

El Chapo’s 2019 criminal trial counted no less than 14 cooperating witnesses. They included Chicago twins Peter and Jay Flores, high profile traffickers for the organization who smuggled the drugs into the heart of America and the money to El Chapo.

Today the Flores twins are in hiding, but their wives have spoken exclusively with “American Greed”. Olivia Flores, who is married to Jay, and Mia Flores, who is married to Peter, also take many precautions. They live under assumed names, and “American Greed” has agreed to keep the location of the interview a secret.

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka ‘el Chapo Guzman’ (C), is escorted by Marines as he is introduced to the press on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City.

Alfredo Estrella | AFP | Getty Images

“Our husbands were able to maneuver both streets of Chicago to the top of the Sinaloa Mountains. And they were able to navigate both worlds,” Olivia told “American Greed.”

But the deeper they got into the business, the more complicated life became.

“The more money they made, the more problems they had. Every good time in our family was always overshadowed by a bad time,” Mia said.

Ultimately, caught in the middle of an internal cartel skirmish, the twins reached out to U.S. prosecutors to strike a deal.

Another insider who turned against El Chapo was Vicente Zambada Niebla, the eldest son of the current hub of the Sinaloa cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

Vicente Zambada, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to reduced charges, testified against El Chapo as Coronel watched in the courtroom. This has further fueled speculation that Coronel may be willing to turn against the organization.

Endless war

The fact that the organization appears to barely miss a beat even as its leaders turn on each other shows the folly of America’s long-standing law enforcement strategy of targeting drug lords, have said Vigil and Grillo to “American Greed”.

“The war on drugs has been conceptually a failure,” said Grillo. “And the kingpin strategy has been a failure. “

Grillo said that while it’s important not to let drug lords operate with impunity, a better strategy is to target drug trafficking issues.

“I think we need to look at the idea of ​​harm reduction, and harm reduction being to reduce the harms of drugs to Americans in terms of overdose deaths and addiction and to reduce the harms of trafficking violence. drug, ”he said.

He said it means more resources to deal with drug addiction and to tackle organized crime and corruption in Mexico.

Vigil agreed, and he said that in his 30 years with the DEA, he never agreed with the emphasis on the pillars of drugs.

“We here in the United States have to do a better job of reducing the demand for drugs,” he said. “Because until we do that, if it isn’t Mexico, it will be in another country.”

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC and Telemundo.

Discover the exclusive and intimate story of how two Chicago brothers helped bring down the world’s most notorious drug lord. Watch a BRAND NEW episode of “American Greed,” Monday, June 7 at 10 p.m. ET / PT only on CNBC.

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