Her husband is behind bars 700 miles away from Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa and also the stronghold of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel. (There, we agreed to an interview without any restrictions on the issues we wanted to address.) Guzmán, 58, is facing an extradition request from the United States on charges of drug trafficking and homicide. He is in a maximum-security prison from which he escaped last year through a tunnel. In 2001, he escaped from another prison disguised as a woman.
Coronel, his third wife, smiles easily and answers fast. She says she was born in San Francisco, and is proud of having an American driver’s license because she admires and respects the country where she was born 26 years ago. She was wearing jeans, a thick linen jacket over a low-cut white shirt and high-heeled sandals. Plastic surgery makes her barely resemble the smiling peasant girl who was crowned the beauty queen of Coffee and Guayaba in the small town of Canelas, Durango, in 2007, when she was 17.
That was when she met Guzmán. By then, he already was the most-wanted drug trafficker in the world. Journalist Patricia Davila from Mexican magazine Proceso wrote that Guzmán arrived at Coronel’s home town with 200 bodyguards riding ATVs. He had landed in one of six small planes that had touched down in quick succession on a track. With an AK-47 across his chest, he was headed to the humble ranch of the Coronel family in Angostura, a town with 87 inhabitants, where a fair was being held. But Coronel denies this spectacular version of how she met her suitor. She acknowledges only that she danced two or three songs with him. Guzmán is 32 years older than she; Coronel is some inches taller than he. A few months later, they got married.
As a Univision crew prepared the cameras for the interview in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms, we touched on a few topics. We discussed La Tuna, the village where Guzmán’s mother is asking the government to return cows that were confiscated as part of a raid in pursuit of her son (who is, according to Forbes, one of the richest men in the world).
Coronel told us that she had studied English for a year in San Francisco and went to college in Culiacán for three years to study communications. Later, in front of the cameras, she said that what she most likes about journalism is investigating “unresolved cases.”
When we started talking, we referred to Guzmán only by his last name. After so many years of covering the life of the kingpin, it was strange not calling him “El Chapo,” which translates into English as “Shorty.” Guzmán is 5-foot-6. But his wife calls him “Joaquin” or “my husband,” even though she registered the nickname “El Chapo” as a trademark in Mexico to keep people from making money off it. At one point, she interrupted our conversation to ask me if I would let her read the questions I had prepared for her. I declined, explaining that our policy prohibited that. She smiled, understanding.
But Coronel was in a mood to complain. She had never talked to the media before this recent round of interviews. Without consulting with her husband, she broke her silence because she wants the world to know that Guzmán could die in the Altiplano prison. According to her, the authorities in charge of the prison are killing him slowly with what she called the worst torture that exists: sleep deprivation. The guards allegedly wake him every two hours at night to take roll call, and when he is able to rest, she said, they wake him up with loud conversations or noises outside his cell. A dog follows him everywhere.
That didn’t win much sympathy from many of our viewers, who sent us emails and tweets after the interview aired on DAY, reminding El Chapo about the mothers who don’t sleep because he murdered their children.
Coronel’s attorney says she plans to appear in Washington today to file a human rights violation complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The Mexican government denies all of her claims. Authorities say that they are giving him the standard treatment for dangerous inmates, and that Coronel is lying about any abuse.
Given Guzmán’s situation, we expected Coronel to lambaste the Mexican government. But she never lost her composure and even refused to answer whether she believes the government wants to kill her husband because it is more convenient to have him dead than alive. She said she just wants the prison regulations to be enforced, and would only say the alleged abuses are a form of unofficial vengeance. She didn’t know if her husband had any political friends or contacts in law enforcement in the United States or Mexico. She didn’t seem to have any ill feelings against the U.S. justice system. Her message was that the respective governments were just doing their job, but that her husband is not a drug trafficker until prosecutors prove he is.
She said she admires the United States because everything is “organized” and “calm.” That was one of the reasons she wanted to give birth in San Diego to the twins she had with Guzman three years ago (they also became U.S. citizens that way). She said she loves to go shopping in California and visiting relatives who are, as she clarified, “legally documented” in the state. With her U.S. passport, Coronel crosses the border each year either by land or plane, and she said that not once has an immigration officer ever asked her about Guzmán.
We couldn’t avoid asking her about Guzmán’s alleged threat to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Smiling, she answered, Trump “gives himself too much importance, [Guzmán] would be incapable of threatening anyone, even him.”
She also insisted that Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo’s film crew did not receive any money from Guzmán to make a movie about his life, and that he was interested only in telling his story. But she added that it would be an honor if del Castillo played her in the movie. (She said that despite flirtatious text messages between del Castillo and Guzmán leaked by Mexican authorities, she’s not jealous, because she does not think the texts are authentic.) She repeated a charge that Guzmán’s lawyer had made in another interview: When Guzmán was arrested in Mazatlan in February 2014, with Coronel present, some of the officials who participated in the operation were American. “I didn’t see them, because they quickly blindfolded me, but I could hear that they were speaking English,” she said. (Such participation by foreign agents in a domestic operation in Mexico would violate Mexican law.)
According to Guzmán’s attorney, José Refugio Rodríguez, his client told him that American officials were surprised that the drug lord didn’t have a lot of money with him and repeatedly asked where the rest of the money was. “They must think he is rotting in money or something like that,” Coronel said.
All of her answers seemed cautious, as though she had rehearsed the answers with her attorneys. Take her version of who her husband is: a farmer without a lot of money, a great father who admires honesty, a ladies’ man who is also respectful, nonviolent and romantic. She didn’t seem so happy, however, when she recalled that he never had her serenaded.
And there was one final, poignant note: The bad El Chapo, the multimillionaire drug trafficker known to be aggressive with women, who flooded the world with cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, has never been in her house in Culiacán. Only the good one — her husband — has.