CULIACAN, Mexico (Reuters) - Teenage girls in
Each year, dozens compete in beauty pageants in the
sometimes pluck one out and spirit her off to a mountain
The dangers of getting sucked into the gangland world
In a sobering reminder of the risks they run, the
"It's dangerous to get involved with these people.
Sinaloans say their striking looks come from tall
What is new is that more and more women are
A woman shows her nails decorated with
Most ostentatious are the domed mausoleums
For Miss Sinaloa, or Laura Zuniga, a leggy 23-year-old
With her husky voice and fair skin, another Sinaloa
cartel's "Zetas" hitmen.
"It's more dangerous than before to be around these
Ostentatious mausoleums, where many Mexican
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)
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