The Costa Rica Star will be publishing an original exclusive six part series from the upcoming book “Drug Diva”, by Star reporter Carol Vaughn, author of “Crazy Jungle Love“.
These sneak-preview excerpts document the astonishing saga of Cristel Gomez Espinoza, one of Central America’s most dangerous and powerful drug capos. Look for the entire book to be released at the end of 2020.
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Cristel Gomez Espinoza, aka La Reina del Sur loaded onto air transport
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 – Palmar Norte de Osa
It was going to be a slow day at the Dental Clinic of Centro Comercial in Palmar Norte. The 9:30 appointment was already twenty minutes late when the receptionist walked over to the picture window to see if the patient was on his way in from the parking lot. She was shocked to see two unmarked black SUVs pull up in front of the adjacent Boutique Donna Rose, and disgorge four armed officers who quickly entered the premises. Then officers of the Fuerza Publica screeched to a halt in front of the store and took up guard positions out front.
Cristel Gomez Espinoza, aka La Reina del Sur, had decided to go shopping that day. She was 5-months pregnant and needed some loose waisted new pants. Cristel had eluded the authorities for nine months – she was wanted on an international arrest warrant for drug dealing and operating a drug cartel out of her home in Cuesta de Corredores, some 130 kilometers away. Someone had spotted her entering the boutique, and had called the cops. They were near the store anyway, staking out another suspect wanted for capture, but flew into action when they heard that La Reina was so close. This would be the arrest of the decade for them.
Cristel is only 24 years old. She allegedly runs one of the biggest drug cartels in Central America, which she inherited from her boyfriend Erwing Guido Toruño, known as “El Gringo”. Guido was killed in December 2017 by rival cartel enemies, gunned down in a flurry of 139 bullets. Cristel is said to be keeping the cartel together, managing the sale, distribution and smuggling of mostly cocaine up from South America, through Costa Rica on the way to the USA. Cristel is a very wealthy chica.
The officers entered Donna Rose and found the owner Karla Steller, two clothing distributors, and the petite Cristel, looking at a rack of designer pants. Everyone was asked to show their cedulas (identification), but Cristel said she had left hers at home. To the officers, she looked nothing like the notoriously beautiful Reina del Sur. She looked a bit pudgy, and was dressed in a pink silk pajama ensemble and flip flops. She did not have her usual 3-man security team with her. What she did have, were the words Reina del Sur tattooed on the insides of both wrists, and other visible identifying tattoos on her back and arms. The fugitive, dubbed “Pequeña pero Matona” which translates to “Tiny but Killer”, was now in custody.
When the dental receptionist was asked why she thought La Reina was out without her security detail, she responded, “Cristel owns the Southern Zone. All of it. She feels safe here as in her own backyard.” But someone ratted her out, and called law enforcement. Her arrest was such a triumph for the local authorities, that for the first time ever, they chose a helicopter to fly her up to San Jose to be arraigned. Cristel began feeling sick while in flight and revealed she was pregnant. Upon landing, they took her immediately to hospital Calderon Guardia.
On December 16, Cristel Gomez gave birth via c-section to a lovely baby girl. She named her Valentina. The baby daddy was present for the delivery, all details of which were handled by Cristel’s lawyer. The birth took place in Costa Rica’s finest private hospital, Hospital La Biblica, all arrangements made with the permission of the Women’s Jail and law enforcement who had to protect her while in hospital. Everyone in the hospital was told they were about to have a very special patient, who expected the best possible care. One orderly said $100 bills were distributed to ensure good care, others denied this was true. In Costa Rica it is said that when wallets come out, even dogs dance.
Cristel was given the usual 90-day Preventive Detention sentence by the court. This allows them time to build a case against the accused, time they dearly need since Cristel’s legal team is top drawer. It also provides time for the jail to accommodate someone of Cristel’s fame and rumored danger as a prisoner. She was put in a two-person jail cell, away from the rest of the inmates. She will be allowed to keep her baby with her for three years.
The Assistant Director of Penitentiary Police, Nils Ching, commented, “The arrival of the prisoner activated a security protocol corresponding to the level of perceived threat of having such a prisoner in our facility.” No details were given as to how many guards would be watching Cristel’s cell. She is being jailed in the notorious Women’s El Buen Pastor, currently being renovated and renamed Centro de Atencion Integral (CAI) Vilma Curling Rivera. Life there will be grim, even for someone of Cristel’s wealth and fame.
Later on the arrest night of August 20th, Boutique Donna Rose evaporated. All the designer clothing and handbags, many worth $500 or more, were taken away in the middle of the night. When neighbors were asked about the sudden store disappearance, a few chuckled, saying the arrangement had never been permanent. No one buys $500 handbags in Palmar Norte de Osa. Off the record, neighboring store employees stated the boutique was a front for money laundering, and a stop for Cristel and her posse on the way in and out of Panama.
Palmar Norte is in the center of a banana-growing region, and is surrounded by densely forested mountains. It is a major transportation hub for the Southern Zone, with a very active airport in nearby Palmar Sur, with regular flights up to San Jose. Neighbors suspected that Boutique Donna Rose was being used for drug drops, and sometimes for sleepovers for Cristel on the way to and from San Jose.
Most people know Palmar Norte as the epicenter of the stone spheres, the pre-Columbian stone balls discovered by the United Fruit Company in the 1930s. There is a museum and guided tours of the iconic stone spheres, some 300 in number, but their origin and purpose remain a complete mystery.
The region is also known as a hotbed of illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, and eco-trafficking of exotic plants and animals. Residents are reluctant to speak with the press about the goings-on and inhabitants of the region. One resident stated, “Look, Lady, the whole town is on the payroll of La Reina. That’s what keeps her safe, and keeps food on our tables. When she discovers who blew the whistle on her, that person better make sure they are right with God, because they will be meeting him very soon.”
Part 2: The Rise of La Reina del Sur, Costa Rica’s Most Famous Diva
About the Author :
Carol Blair Vaughn has written for Inside Costa Rica and The Costa Rica Star, as well as El
Residente magazine. She grew up in Latin America, traveling with her father Jack Vaughn,
former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, and US Ambassador to Panama
and Colombia. The Star published her book Crazy Jungle Love: Murder, Madness, Money & Monkeys
in 2017, and it is now available for purchase on Amazon as both a paperback and an
This post was updated on .
La Reina with her boyfriend, El Gringo
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