NARCO WIVES. By Reuter's Catherine Bremer.

By Reuter's Catherine Bremer.
Blog Edited By Uncle Monty.
CULIACAN, Mexico (Reuters) - Teenage girls in
northwest Mexico are dazzled by the glamorous
"Narco Wives" who laze in beauty salons, draped
in designer gear, getting Swarovski crystals
glued onto their fingernails.
Each year, dozens compete in beauty pageants in the
sun-baked hills of Sinaloa state where their legendary
good looks draw wealthy drug traffickers who will
sometimes pluck one out and spirit her off to a mountain
hide-out. Career prospects are few for Sinaloan girls,
and landing a prominent drug trafficker means enter-
ing a world of untold riches -- luxury mansions,
SUVs, endless spa sessions and a closet full
of the priciest labels on the planet.
The dangers of getting sucked into the gangland world
have jumped, however, as an army crackdown by
(Mexican) President Felipe Calderon has sparked new
turf wars and hitmen ignore old codes against slay-
ing their enemies' wives, girlfriends or children.
In a sobering reminder of the risks they run, the
reigning "Miss Sinaloa" beauty queen was arrested
last December with her smuggler boyfriend in a truck
full of guns and cash. Days earlier, a top drug boss's
former lover was found dead in a car trunk with
"Z"s -- the mark of a rival gang's hit squad --
cut into her breasts, belly and buttocks.
"It's dangerous to get involved with these people.
The risk is there for any pretty girl," said model
agency director Juan Manuel Alvarado in his office,
crammed with trophies and photos in fake leopard-
fur frames, in the state capital Culiacan.
Sinaloans say their striking looks come from tall
indigenous ancestors who mixed with French, Ger-
man and Greek settlers, and the state is rich with
swashbuckling tales of drug lords whisking girls from
villages, luring them to parties at ranches or even
kidnapping them at gunpoint.
What is new is that more and more women are
being murdered in a war that killed around 5,700
people nationwide last year. "I never let them
go to private events or ranches, or give their
phone numbers. I don't let them out of my sight,"
said Alvarado, glancing protectively at three
of his models. Outside, the cartels' presence
is obvious, from gleaming SUVs with tinted
windows but no plates to the safe houses dotted
about and the businesses like plastic surgery
clinics and fancy boutiques that locals
say are used to launder money.
A woman shows her nails decorated with
marijuana leaves and images of narco patron
saint Jesus Malverde in the NW city of Culiacan.
Most ostentatious are the domed mausoleums
erected in cemeteries for drug war victims. Built with
windows, air conditioning and an upstairs room for
the family to sit and mourn, they are filled with giant
portraits, party balloons, toys and models of the victim's
favorite guns and cars. The wealth that drug lords
splash about, especially to help rural communities, and
the power they exert earn them respect from old
Sinaloans and from youths who think narco chic, like
ostrich-leather boots, rhinestones and gold pendants
of a local folk hero bandit, is the ultimate cool.
For Miss Sinaloa, or Laura Zuniga, a leggy 23-year-old
with piercing dark eyes, eye-popping curves and long
black hair, a pair of glittering Chanel earrings were visible
as she posed forlornly in a gray cardigan for her police
mugshot (as shown in the lead caption picture above).
With her husky voice and fair skin, another Sinaloa
beauty, Zulema Yulia Hernandez, won the attentions
of top drug lord Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman when
they were in jail in the 1990s. Once out, she lived a
glamorous life working for his Sinaloa cartel, but it
ended horribly in December when she was suffocated,
shot and dumped in a car near Mexico City. The "Z"s
sliced into her and smeared with black ink suggest
her murder was an attack by the rival Gulf
cartel's "Zetas" hitmen.
"It's more dangerous than before to be around these
people because they are out of the control of their
bosses," said a newspaper editor in Culiacan who
asked not be quoted by name. "For years there
were codes. The family was respected. But
they're being broken. Last year we saw
many more women die."
Ostentatious mausoleums, where many Mexican
drug traffickers are buried, are silhouetted at the
cemetery of "Jardines de Humaya" during sunset
in Culiacan, northern Mexican state of Sinaloa.


Nestled between the Pacific ocean and the western Sierra Madre mountains, Sinaloa's fertile plains teem with tomatoes and beans, and the hills where marijuana and poppies have thrived for decades spawned Mexico's first drug barons. As U.S. demand for cocaine exploded in the 1980s, top trafficker Miguel Angel "The Godfather" Felix Gallardo molded cartel leaders like Guzman, who ran Sinaloan smuggling routes from his ranch in the hills and got into throwing lavish parties decked with pretty girls. Then chills rippled through the state when the raven-haired wife, Guadalupe, of Guzman's ally Hector "El Guero" Palma, was seduced away and decapitated in 1989 by a Venezuelan on the payroll of a rival drug faction.

Her killer also pushed her two children off a bridge to their death and sent Guadalupe's head back in a box to Culiacan, where a morbid portrait of the three now adorns their tomb.
"They are revenge killings. They settle scores. One way to hurt a rival is to kill the woman he loves most," said Ricardo Ravelo, a veteran drug reporter at Mexico's hard-hitting news magazine Proceso. Such high-profile murders did not deter 18-year-old beauty pageant winner Emma Coronel from marrying Guzman, who is three times her age, in a lavish secret ceremony in 2007, not long after he escaped from the prison where he and Hernandez were lovers.
Culiacan residents say they sometimes spot Coronel at the salons that do eyelash implants and decorate false nails with garish designs or photos of loved ones. Local reporters say her parents feel like they've won the lottery. Yet Coronel is tracked by security wherever she goes, and while capos like Guzman are said to have many lovers, she may never be free to leave him or his clan.
"They fall for the idea that having a narco means a life of luxury," said Martin Meza, mayor of the town of Badiraguato where Guzman was born. "They give them the life of a queen. But afterward these women become untouchable." Stories abound of men shot for flirting with a trafficker's girlfriend and schoolgirls terrified by the delivery of dangerously expensive bouquets to their classrooms. "It's hard to say 'No' nicely so that they get the message without getting angry. It's very scary," Sinaloa beauty queen Rosa Maria Ojeda, who was pestered by a capo for months after she won a 2006 pageant, told the daily Reforma.
(Rueter Editing by Kieran Murray and Philip Barbara)

Drug Kingpin "Shorty"
By Reuter’s Robin Emmott

Next: "Algumas Fotos Que Tirei de Lisboa" or
"Some Photographs I Have Taken of Lisbon."

Soon: Coaker's Own Croak on UK Police. By Uncle Monty.

Getting Ready for St. Paddy's Day.


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