The story of El Chapo’s wife is not another sexy story of “the gangster’s girlfriend”

She wanted to be a journalist. She became the beauty queen, a narco-businesswoman and a criminal

Not so long ago it seemed that Emma Coronel Aispuro, known mainly as a narco-celebrity and “the wife of her husband”, will avoid responsibility and remain the famous Sinaloa diva. However, in June Aispuro appeared in federal court in Washington, dressed in a green prison uniform. She admitted to conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs, money laundering and, above all, to helping the Sinaloa drug cartel, led for many years by her husband El Chapo. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for 15 September, 2021 [1]. 

A beauty queen, a narco-businesswoman and a criminal

Coronel Aispuro is formally a citizen of both the USA and Mexico. Born in California, she grew up in a Mexican city Canelsa. She studied journalism and is the mother of the Guzmán twins- that is the surname of the famous El Chapo.

At the age of 17, at a shindig, she met 49-year old Joaquín. A couple of months later she took part in a beauty pageant and she won. Mexican press reported that Guzmán appeared at this event with hundreds of bandits and then announced that he is going to marry her. They married on Coronel’s 18th birthday. It was the third marriage for the drug dealer [2].

In 2013 her father, Inés Coronel Barreras, was convicted of drug dealing. He was a high ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel under El Chapo’s rule. He was one of the initiators of his daughter’s marriage. Also Emma’s uncle, Ignacio „Nacho” Coronel, killed in 2010, was a key member of the gang [3]. 

The former beauty queen was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Washington in February this year. She was accused of conspiracy to distribute 5kg or more of cocaine, 1kg or more of heroin, 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and 1,000kg or more of cannabis, as well as aiding and abetting. Court documents said Coronel Aispuro was allegedly involved in planning another prison escape for her husband before he was extradited to the US in January 2017 [4].

Powerful men don’t exist without strong women

Guzmán came from a poor family in the Sinaloa state, in northwestern Mexico. His business, based on organized crime, grew so much that in 2009 he made Forbes magazine’s billionaires list, at number 701, with his net worth estimated at $1 billion. The story of El Chapo and his cartel was portrayed in many series produced by Netflix. In July 2019 the drug lord was convicted to life imprisonment after one of the most well-know trails in the history of modern USA [5].

It was talked a lot about Coronel Aispuro during her husband’s three-month trail. She participated almost every day in the hearings of El Chapo in New York. She was listening to grim reports about the murders and rapes he committed, but she also said that he was spying on her and on his mistresses. Despite all of that, she remained faithful to her husband. And to her own interests. 

During one of the hearings she laughed while listening to a tearful testimony of one of Guzmán’s mistresses. Another day Emma and her husband wore similar velvet, burgundy jackets, which many interpreted as a sign of martial solidarity. 

At the end of the trail she said ,,I don’t know my husband as the person they are trying to show him as, but rather I admire him as the human being that I met, and the one that I married.”

A crime queen, a narco-barbie or an intimidated woman?

The attitude of Emma Coronel stirred up quite a controversy. Before El Chapo’s trail, she was seen rather as a fashionably dressed narco-celebrity living in luxury, but during the trail her image started to get much darker. What happened in court clearly showed that it is not the question of Coronole knowing about her husband’s drug empire or even about her devotion to him being authentic. The question is about whether her actions were the actions of a criminal or of an intimidated woman who is trying to protect herself and her family at all costs. 

According to Anabel Hernandez, an investigative journalist dealing with drug crime, it is mostly the latter: ,,These women [narco wives] do not have any choice. They cannot elect. Once they are inside these relationships, there’s no way to go out” [7].

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In Mexico there are many warnings about what happens to beautiful women who marry brutal, influential men. And considering that before El Chapo’s marriage to Coronel one of his mistresses ended up in a car boot with the initials of a rival drug gang carved on her buttocks and her chest, it is hard to believe that Emma Coronel remains unharmed by these warnings. Especially as a mother of two daughters, who during the trail had to listen to many stories about abuse of women who stood in the way of the Sinaloa cartel [8].

And the fact that she was so young when she married El Chapo poses a question about how big a role does she play not in the cartel itself, but in their marriage. ,,Think about another older man who’s not El Chapo, and another woman who’s not Emma Coronel,” Hernandez says. ,,She’s just 17 and lives in a little country, her family doesn’t have money, she’s nothing. And the king appears and seduces you, but you’re 17. What kind of decisions can a woman of 17 make?” 

A Sinaloa diva image – a coincidence or a strategy?

“A Sinaloa diva,” says Romain Le Cour Grandmaison, a security analyst who studies the Mexican cartels. Red lipstick, diamonds, tight jeans- she embodies the popular image of a buchona, a narco’s love interest.

,,They wear very expensive clothes, Louis Vuitton purses. Everything is an exaggeration, and she’s a perfect representation of that image. It’s all about the look, the plastic surgery” [10].

Emma Coronel practically became an influencer. Her Instagram account has more than half a million of followers. Her effective image contrasted with a grim reality of El Chapo’s cartel activity and it became the main characteristics of the Sinaloa diva. It distracted the attention from her role in the cartel, but also from her extraordinary personality [11].

A screenshot of Emma Coronel’s Instagram account.

Why do we sexualize such characters?

Drug baronesses, women of the dictators, gangsters’ girlfriends- all of them have been classified in pop culture and in social awareness in a way that is hurtful and deprives them of their subjectivity. It was no difference for Emma Coronel Aispuro. The observers were even more shocked when it turned out that this narco-celebrity is a brave, even dangerous, woman who is equal to her husband. 

Putting aside the matter of Aispuro’s guilt or innocence, analytics studying the world of drug dealing claim that she played an incredible role. She was a public person, an entrepreneur and a guardian. She helped to control who had access to her husband when he was leading the cartel.

“Traditionally, drug dealers’ wives are seen as sexual objects without their own agenda” – says Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, a researcher from the University of California, San Diego. Coronel proves it is not true: ,,She showed that women can take up positions of authority”, adds Farfán-Méndez. And executing authority in a cartel is one of the most risky undertaking in the world. Derek Maltz, a former special agent responsible for the USA anti-drug policy, says: ,,when you are in this business, you either get caught or killed” [12].

Coronel clenched her fists. She was going to establish a fashion company, she was a devoted mother. But the federal investigators were getting closer. Reducing the role of women such as Emma Coronel to sexual objects and ,,ornaments” of their powerful husbands influences the way we perceive women in general – patriarchally, depriving them of the right to speak in their own matter. Whether the ,,Mexican beauty” is a dangerous criminal or not, depriving her of her subjectivity and oversimplifying her role makes us repeat harmful stereotypes which influence how women are really treated. 

What about Mexico?

The story of Emma Coronel and the Sinaloa cartel is a story of violence which affected the whole Mexico. Talking about key figures of the drug business we can’t overlook implications of this crime, which took many lives. Brutal drug war in Mexico takes a heavy toll every year. The powerful drug dealers’ groups fight for territory and influence. 

Cartels control huge area of the country and are responsible for political corruption, murders and kidnappings. According to the data published by CIA in 2018, even 20% of the country can be under the influence of cartels [13]. It is no wonder then that Emma Coronel is not liked and that the Mexican people applauded her arrest. 

The US government called the Sinaloa cartel one of the biggest drug dealing organizations in the world. Under El Chapo’s leadership, thanks to unprecedented violence, it gained bloody reputation and defeated a couple of rival groups. Mexican cartels clash with one another, but it is worth noticing that they can create strategic alliances. Sinaloa became the biggest suppliers of illegal drugs to the US under the long reign of Guzmán.

Allegedly, nowadays Sinaloa is partially controlled by El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzmán Lopez. One might see Coronel Aispuro’s arrest as a sensational and apparent success of the services. But it is pointless to think it will be a breakthrough in Mexican security. Experts claim that the cartel is still earning billions of dollars trafficking illegal drugs to the USA, Europe and Asia [15].

Anna Słania – national and international security expert, journalist. Interested in the issues of contemporary armed conflicts, terrorism, and humanitarianism in international relations. Works in the field of peace journalism. Member of the Salam Lab team. You can follow Anna on social media: IG: @annaslania, FB: anna.slania4.

Translation: Maja Tkocz – English studies graduate, interested in translation and teaching English to students with special educational needs. In her free time she crochets. Volunteer at the Salam Lab.


[1] Associated Press, Wife of drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ pleads guilty

[2] New York Post, Gabrielle Fonrouge, Who is El Chapo’s wife Emma Coronel Aispuro?

[3] CNN, Catherine E. Shoichet, Mexico: Drug lord’s father-in-law arrested

[4] BBC, Emma Coronel Aispuro: Wife of El Chapo pleads guilty to drugs charge,

[5] The New York Times, ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Sentenced to Life in Prison, Ending Notorious Criminal Career,

[6] BBC, Rosie Blunt, Emma Coronel Aispuro: El Chapo’s beauty queen wife,

[7, 8, 9] Rolling Stone, Who Is the Real Mrs. El Chapo?,

[10, 12] BBC, Tara Kelvey, Emma Coronel Aispuro: The rise and fall of a drug kingpin’s wife,

[11] Deutsche Welle, Emma Coronel Aispuro’s route from pageants to Chapo’s wife,

[13] The Washington Post, Mary Beth Sheridan, The search for the disappeared points to Mexico’s darkest secrets,

[14, 15] BBC, Mexico cartels: Which are the biggest and most powerful?.

Cover photo: Emma Coronel Aispuro (fot.


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