THEY are beautiful, rich… and absolutely ruthless.
Often as fearsome as their male counterparts, the world’s cartel queens have been responsible for everything from drug trafficking to robberies and even assassinations.
This week, the wife of notorious drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ was released from jail in the US after serving her three-year sentence for helping his criminal empire.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, 34, pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs, laundering money and financial dealings with the Sinaloa cartel in November 2021.
She believes the public is often “more shocked” by female offending because women are seen as “mothers, daughters and sisters, who are meant to be lovely, kind and maternal”.
“But it’s the same for women as it is with men, there is a dark side and you can’t have the good without the bad,” Dannielle told The Sun.
“There are a range of personality types, variants and variables, and environments where people have to fight to survive in the world they are born into.
“For many, it can be a ‘do or die’ situation and some step up and partake while others just leave.”
With this in mind, we take a look at the dangerous and glamourous lives of South American drug queens and try to decode some of the behaviours behind their shocking actions.
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Mrs El Chapo
Probably the most famous cartel queen of them all is Emma Coronel Aispuro.
The Californian pleaded guilty at a virtual hearing in Washington D.C to helping El Chapo distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine for a period of at least six years.
She also admitted one count of money laundering, one count of engaging in transactions with a foreign narcotics trafficker and conspiring to help her husband escape from a Mexican prison in 2015.
Emma was born into the business as her Mexican-born dad was a drugs trafficker, and it was at one of his parties in 2006 that she met El Chapo, at the age of 17.
He proposed at a beauty pageant notorious as a hunting ground for drugs lords to find their wives.
The pair married on her 18th birthday, when El Chapo – who is serving life in a Colorado prison – was 50.
Emma gave birth to their twins, Maria and Emali, in 2011.
In court, she claimed to feel “true regret for any and all harm” she caused and asked “all the citizens of this country” to forgive her.
Dannielle explained that teenagers are “quite easily influenced” because their frontal lobe, which is responsible for forward planning and impulse control, has not fully developed.
“That can lead to someone being manipulated and that life becoming normal for them. If you married a drug lord it could seem as normal as sitting in an office all day,” she said.
The psychologist also explained that age gaps can lead to an “almost father and daughter-like admiration”.
Queen of the Pacific
The matriarch of cartel queens, Sandra Ávila Beltrán, is so legendary she even had a song written about her.
The 2004 song includes the lyrics: “The more beautiful the rose, the sharper the thorns.”
The ‘Queen of the Pacific’ was also born into crime – not only her parents but grandparents were also in the business.
The 62-year-old earned her nickname after dispatching 10 tons of cocaine on a fleet of tuna boats from Manzanillo, Mexico, to California in 2001. It was seized by authorities and Sandra disappeared.
She has married two police officers who joined the cartels – both of whom were killed in Mexican drug wars.
Beltrán was arrested on September 28, 2007, and extradited to the US.
She has since reportedly spent a total of seven years behind bars, but has now returned to Mexico.
Dannielle said there was “a fine line between criminals and police officers” and the intrigue in illegal activity can lead some to commit crime.
She said: “Why go into it if you have no interest in crime? There’s an astounding amount of criminal activity that goes on in the police.
“And it can be easy to influence a person to step over that fine line, it’s like the fine line between love and hate.”
Jessica Oseguera, 34, is the daughter of El Chapo’s rival cartel boss, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, or El Mencho.
A day after Mrs El Chapo appeared in court, Jessica – known as La Negra – was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for helping her dad launder money through their various businesses, including sushi restaurants, a resort and a tequila company.
El Mencho, who is on the Most Wanted traffickers list, runs the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, in Mexico.
The brutal ring includes a band of 5,000 hitmen whose trademark method of dispatch is to behead any enemies and dissolve their bodies in acid.
Jessica, a mum-of-two, insisted she was not involved in the drugs business and wrote in a letter to the judge: “I regret everything I did that may have caused any harm.”
Last year it was revealed that she was released from a jail in California on March 14 after serving 25 months at a low-security prison.
Dannielle said the act of disolving a body in acid is “something serial killers do or people who are desperate to remove evidence”.
She added: “Not you average person would think of – let alone come up – with an idea like this.
“Often with crime those at the top never commit the acts themselves and that can show an element of power or control.
“When people get away with crimes they become less scare of police and authority and the larger the risk the more the brain wants to take more risks.”
Brazilian Valeska Pereira Monteiro, 27, was arrested in September 2021 while on holiday.
She was accused of controlling the finances of a gang in the north-eastern state of Ceara.
Her nickname came about because Monteiro spends her “blood money” on lavish trips and a luxury lifestyle.
It wasn’t the first time she’s been caught by the cops.
In 2014, she was arrested for leading a gang that robbed homes and commercial properties in Ceara’s capital, Fortaleza.
Six years later, she was caught doing accounting for a crime gang in Rio de Janeiro and forced to wear an ankle tag, which she broke when she was considered a fugitive.
Dannielle specialises in the ‘Dark Triad’ personality – psychopathy, machiavellism and narcissism – and says it often leads to criminality.
When asked why a person involved in legal activity would post on social media, she said it could be a sign of “shortsightedness or arrogance”.
Dannielle said: “It’s interesting for someone to present their life in a way that showcases criminality while also having a public personality.
“Social media is a haven for narcassisstic behaviour. It’s a place where everything in a person’s life could be a facade.
“For someone to show that off but also be happy to see someone’s life as worthless is an interesting duality of personality types.”
At just 21 María Guadalupe López Esquivel, nicknamed the Dame of Death, was killed after rising to prominence as the leader of a local cartel.
The young woman is said to have become involved in gang life after falling for a narco known as “M2,” Miguel Fernandez.
She abandoned a middle-class city life to live with him and other criminals in Aguililla, Michoacán, in 2017.
They were part of the El Mencho cartel which was fighting for dominance with El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel.
Maria was shot through the neck during a shoot-out and died from her wounds.
In documents seized in the raid, it suggested that she was involved in kidnapping, extortion and other criminal activities, and had herself commanded cartel assassins.
She also posted regularly on her Instagram, boasting about her lifestyle with the cartel.
A number of things can lead a person to crime, Dannielle explains, including personality, wellbeing or even their family history.
“Generally speaking people have fewer moral and ethical stances and a higher level of psychopathy and narcissism,” she said.
“People who run these kinds of criminal businesses don’t feel risk the same way normal people do, they have an inflated sense of superiority and think they won’t get caught.
“These kinds of people are more likely to be with someone who has similar psychopathic tendencies – ie. not being scared of police or authority or being afraid to take big risks.”
Luz Irene Fajardo Campos ran an international drug trafficking ring out of Columbia with the help of her two adult sons.
She also went by the aliases “La Comadre” and “La Madrina” – words denoting a big female boss.
But she wasn’t born into a life of crime. Instead, she had a fairly idyllic childhood in southern, humid state of Michoacán, western Mexico.
This all changed when she was a teenager and the crime lords moved into the area.
Her introduction into the drug business was selling dope on the street of California which led to her being deported back to Mexico in the 1990s.
From there she embarked on a three-decade career and was said to work closely with El Chapo’s sons.
She was sending 30 kilos of cocaine a week to the US – she also hired pilots and bought jets to move her drugs around before being arrested.
Shortly after she was caught, her two sons were killed and their dismembered burnt bodies were left in a vehicle.
It was a stark warning to her to not cooperate with the investigation.
Irene was slapped with a 22-year sentence for her drug crimes and her mental health is said to have rapidly deteriorated behind bars.
Dannielle explains that the environment a person grows up in can change their perception of what is normal.
“It can seem like normal life, especially if you see everybody else doing the same type of work,” she said.
“For most people, when they get away with crimes, they will go on to bigger and bigger things. Especially when there is competition and money can be made from it.”