La Reina del Pacifico

Milenio is reporting that all charges have been dropped against Sandra Avila Beltran, the so-called Reina del Pacifico who was arrested in late 2007.

Avila Beltran’s arrest was the stuff of a great novel: the cops tracked her down through the fancy restaurants/cafes in Polanco she was known to frequent; when they caught her she simply smirked at the cameras and claimed she was a housewife with business interests. She had allegedly risen through the ranks of the Sinaloa cartel by seducing various capos, striking allegiances and having relationships with top Colombians and just generally, being an impressive go-getter.

She was indicted in Florida in 2004 on charges of conspiring to import cocaine in connection with a 9.6-ton seizure of the drug. And according to former DEA special agent Mike Vigil, Avila Beltran was “very ruthless,” even by narco-standards.

During a visit to Santa Marta Acatitla penitentiary in 2008, I had the fortune of spotting Ms. Avila Beltran making a phone call from the prison yard. She had just recently filed a complaint with the human rights commission: there were cockroaches in her cell, she protested. Life in the prison was clearly tough: there she was at the payphone, wearing a very sleek beige pantsuit (beige is for inmates who have yet to be convicted, they can basically wear anything if they can afford it) and a pair of Jackie O-style sunglasses and high heels.

I didn’t get to talk to her unfortunately, but I chatted to some other inmates about her. “Look,” said one 20-something inmate, her eyes lighting up and her jaw dropping slightly. “La Reina.”

La Reina del Pacifico’s cellmates spent much of their time gossiping about her, they admitted. “She’s so cool,” one said to me. She’s a “hero” who worked around the system.

But even then, there was skepticism from inmates about her true status, and even her identity. One inmate frowned as she spoke to me. “She’s just one more here in the prison,” she said, cynically. “If she’s really La Reina, then why is she still here? Why haven’t her people come and rescued her yet?”

I guess they didn’t need to.