Pink abounds. Pink flowers. Pink balloon arches. Pink couches. Pink triple-decker cakes. Pink cutouts of the number seven. The color’s whole spectrum — from cotton-candy to medium-rare steak — is on display.
Life-size cutouts of Barbie, the blond-haired, bronze-skinned monument of girlhood, stand sentinel on the party grounds, tagged in a social media post as being located in Culiacán, the capital of Mexico’s northwestern Sinaloa state. A video captures children running on the grass between a carnival ride and a pink-splashed party room inside as Spanish-language pop music thumps softly in the background. The happy mother who threw the Barbie-themed party for her 7-year-old twins, a dark-haired former beauty queen in high heels, posts images from the event on her Instagram account. “#barbiestyle,” she writes.
An over-the-top birthday extravaganza normally would not draw international interest. But the mother throwing the party was not just another loving parent. She was the wife of the biggest name in drug trafficking. As first reported by the Los Angeles Times this week, Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of alleged Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, posted the images from the 7th birthday party for the couple’s twin daughters.
The images drew the usual social media rubbernecking but also outrage. Awaiting trial in U.S. custody, Guzmán is alleged to have run a vicious billion-dollar narcotics empire that had nearly complete control of the American illegal drug supply and left behind a significant body count. But as the alleged kingpin stews in a cell, his wife is hosting parties with the blood money.
“You know that this was not possible without who knows how many deaths and tortures in Mexico, right?” one poster commented in Spanish under Coronel’s party pictures.
But the showy display of wealth must be equally frustrating for U.S. officials. Although the Justice Department has filed criminal forfeiture papers seeking to confiscate Guzmán’s reported $14 billion in assets, the government has failed to pocket any of the alleged drug lord’s ill-gotten gains.
The romance between Guzmán and Coronel runs straight back to Sinaloa, where Guzmán’s criminal escapades have made him a folk hero. According to the Daily Beast, the then-17-year-old Coronel was from La Angostura. She signed up for a local beauty contest. Per local custom, the contestant threw herself a party on Jan. 6, 2007. The Beast reported that as the occasion kicked into full gear, armed gunman swarmed the town. Planes touched down at the local airport, bearing more gunmen and Guzmán.
During the party, Coronel announced she and Guzmán were to be married in July — on her 18th birthday. The kingpin and his personal army were gone by the next morning, but Guzmán returned a month later after Coronel won the beauty contest. The couple married as planned, then disappeared before a detachment from the Mexican military arrived on orders to arrest the fugitive drug trafficker.
“I would say what won me over was his way of talking, how he treated me, the way we began to get along — first as friends and from that came everything else,” Coronel told the L.A. Times in a rare 2016 interview. “He tends to win over people by his manner of being, of acting, the way he treats people in general.”
Coronel described her marriage to Guzmán — 32 years her senior — as an ordeal of secret assignations and long separations as the kingpin attempted to evade Mexican authorities. She also countered the image of her husband as a ruthless killer.
“He is like any other man — of course he is not violent, not rude,” Coronel told the Times. “I have never heard him say a bad word. I have never seen him get excited or be upset at anyone.”
Coronel was born in the U.S. and raised in Mexico. In 2011, when she gave birth to the couple’s twins, she traveled to Los Angeles for the delivery. Both girls automatically had American citizenship, despite the fact that their father was wanted by the U.S. government.
Guzmán’s current incarceration did not appear to dampen the spirits at the Barbie party for the twins. The social media reaction to an alleged killer’s family enjoying the spoils of his work, however, has been harsh.
“They have attacked me,” Antonio Tizoc, a photographer who shot the Barbie party and posted pictures online, told the Times. “But in Culiacán it’s really normal to have parties like this. Rich and poor, we like big parties.”
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