La Reina del Sur: Costa Rica’s Most Notorious Female Cartel Leader

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La Reina del Sur: Costa Rica’s Most Notorious Female Cartel Leader

TNL
https://news.co.cr/la-reina-del-sur-costa-ricas-most-notorious-female-cartel-leader/80907/


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.
Click image to enlarge

   
    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.

WTF?

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
ebook.
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La Reina with her boyfriend, El Gringo
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Fourth story of this six part series:


https://news.co.cr/la-reina-del-sur-inspiration-for-costa-ricas-drug-diva/81047/


 La Reina Del Sur: Inspiration for Costa Rica’s Drug Diva

    By Carol Vaughn – February 1, 2020
        Costa Rica News
       

This is the fourth installment of The Costa Rica Star’s exclusives six part original series of the upcoming book, “Drug Diva”, by Carol Vaughn the story of one of Central America’s fiercest female narco-traffickers, Cristel Gomez Espinoza. You can read our previous published first installment here , the second installment here and the third here.

Mexican beauty Sandra Avila Beltran was having coffee with friends at an upscale coffee shop in Mexico City in 2001, when the police cornered her and took her into custody. A tuna boat had been seized by the authorities carrying over nine million tons of cocaine. The boat was traced by cell phones found on board, back to Sandra and her lover “el Tigre”. At last the “Queen of the Pacific”, also known as Mexico’s “Queen of the South”, had been captured. Similarities between the now 60-year old Mexican and Costa Rica’s 25-year old Queen of the South are legendary.

When captured, Sandra declared to authorities that she was “merely a housewife who earns a little money on the side selling clothes and renting houses.” That “little housewife” required four years and 30 federal agents to investigate, and eventually capture. She was operating on a much higher level of narco-traffickers than the Mexican authorities were accustomed to – especially for a woman. Her arrest would probably never have happened had she not unexpectedly contacted Mexican authorities herself when her son was kidnapped and ransomed for US 5 million. Her son was released, and Sandra and her Colombian tuna boat lover “El Tigre” were taken into custody. Sandra herself negotiated the release of her son from the kidnappers for US 3 million prior to her arrest. She also ratted out El Tigre to get a shorter sentence for herself.

Sandra suffered seven years in Mexican prison, two of them in solitary confinement. In 2009, she was interviewed for the American TV show 60 Minutes, by journalist Anderson Cooper. She complained to Cooper that her cell room was full of insects, and that the prison was violating her human rights by not allowing her deliveries of restaurant food. She was, however, allowed to receive Botox injections while incarcerated, which cost the prison doctor and hospital chief their jobs when it was discovered.
Jose Gerardo Mejia, the only journalist to interview Sandra while she was in prison, painted a different picture of the life of a jailed drug diva. He described her as, “a prisoner in four-inch heels, adorned with jewels, custom clothing, and obsequious guards who acted with the airs of a low-ranking diplomat announcing the arrival of the ambassador. Sandra’s guests were treated to food service served by maids, and included alcohol and cigarettes.”

Sandra was born in Baja California, Mexico, into a family of narco-traffickers known as the Guadalajara Cartel. She is a third generation drug diva. On her paternal side, her father is serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of a US DEA (Drug Enforcement Agent). On her mother’s side, several convictions of her mother and other relatives are on record for heroin smuggling, then later cocaine smuggling. Sandra was precocious. She spent so many hours helping her family count drug money that they would show off her favorite cocktail party trick to friends. Sandra could grab a fistful of dollars, and precisely calibrate their cash value. She later also became a ferocious car driver, master horseback rider, and deadly sharpshooter.
As a young woman, Sandra, like Cristel (Costa Rica Reina del Sur), had several affairs with well-known drug barons. She was married twice to Mexican ex-police officers, whom she allegedly converted into drug traffickers. Both husbands were brutally assassinated by hired thugs. Her most powerful partner was Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, “El Tigre”, her partner in crime with the tuna boat carrying nine tons of cocaine. She conducted an on and off again affair with “el Mayo” Zambada, a Mexican drug smuggler. She also had a close friendship with the notorious “El Chapo” Guzman.

Sandra was celebrated in Mexico and throughout Latin America by a band known as Los Tucanes de Tijuana (The Toucans of Tijuana) with a party single and video of their song, “Party in the Mountains”. It featured a secret birthday party in a place so remote that it was accessible only by helicopter. Many well-known narco-traffickers were in attendance, each with a security entourage, including the infamous “El Chapo” Guzman. In the video, Sandra is shown making a fashionably late, and dramatic entrance. Her entrance is described in the song like this:

“All the guests arrived at the mountain party in private helicopters. Suddenly, they heard a buzzing sound, and saw a chopper landing. The boss ordered everyone to hold their fire. Out came a beautiful lady, dressed in camo and carrying a “cuerno” (AK-47). Everyone knew immediately who she was!”
“Party in the Mountains” rocketed Los Tucanes to fame and fortune. They became part of the originators of “narcocorridos”, popular Mexican songs celebrating drug trafficking and drug violence, set to a bouncy accordion and brass-accented melody. Mexico has banned narcocorridos on the radio – they get people too fired up. These songs are still heard at bars, restaurants and private homes. Sandra could not have paid for better marketing for herself as a narco queen.
DEA officials said of Sandra, “Sandra was very ruthless. She never shrank from employing the violence that comes with the turf. She used the typical intimidation tactics of Mexican cartel organizations.” These tactics crowned her queen of one of the most coveted drug smuggling routes in the business: the Colombian-US Pacific corridor. Her tactics also set a perfect example for Cristel, and other drug queenpins.

Sandra and Cristel lived similarly compartmentalized lives. Both had loving families, luxurious living arrangements that only millionaires can afford, the best imported fashion and make-up – and yet spent much of their time in the trenches managing the most vicious and cruel drug lords known to Latin America. Both commented about their success that they studiously avoided using drugs themselves. Use of drugs by a drug diva erased the respect of her associates, and made her vulnerable to foolish situations with dangerous people. Both women approached their life’s work with cunning and ingenuity.
Sandra Avila Beltran has managed to cement her legacy in the world through a book based loosely on her life’s story, titled “La Reina del Sur”, written by Arturo Perez Reverte. The book was turned into a TV series starring the incomparable actress Kate del Castillo. Although Sandra was known more frequently as the Queen of the Pacific for her armada of tuna boats transporting drugs through Mexico to the USA, the title Reina del Sur became her trademark. Perez Reverte has complained that the TV series bore little resemblance to his book, but it launched Sandra into the role of a narco-tafficker heroine.
The National Enquirer of Costa Rica, La Teja, published a comparison between the two Reinas del Sur, concluding that although very different physically (Sandra is tall and dark-skinned, Cristel is petite and light skinned), and obviously different in age, the two shared a common drive to succeed, and ability to make millions of dollars by narco-trafficking, while managing men twice their age and physical strength.

The two queens are credited with opening doors for several other drug divas, in several different Latin American countries. They are also credited with bringing the attention of international drug enforcement agencies to the fact that women are having an increasingly powerful role in narco-trafficking throughout the world.

Next installment: Who are the upcoming Tica drug divas who will take La Reina’s place

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
ebook.’
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canadiana
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That's why Chapo wanted to meet Kate Castillo who played Sandra.He watched her narco series on TV because he knew her personally Sandra that is.Thanks for the installment TNL.Please keep as posted on the other installments.
TNL
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Fifth story of this six part series:

https://news.co.cr/la-reina-del-sur-who-will-fill-cristel-gomez-espinoza-shoes-while-incarcerated-in-costa-rica/81081/

 La Reina Del Sur: Who Will Fill the Shoes While Incarcerated in Costa Rica

    By Carol Vaughn – February 8, 2020
        Costa Rica News
   
This is the fifth installment of The Costa Rica Star’s exclusives six part original series of the upcoming book, “Drug Diva”, by Carol Vaughn the story of one of Central America’s fiercest female narco-traffickers, Cristel Gomez Espinoza. You can read our previous published first installment here , the second installment here third installment here and fourth here.

Cristel Yariella Gomez Espinoza, the 25-year old beauty dubbed the “Queen of the South” of Costa Rica, is now in Preventive Detention Prison in San Jose, along with her newborn baby girl, Valentina. Cristel is petite, just over 5 feet, and has taken advantage of the good plastic surgeons of Costa Rica to enhance her beauty – and help her escape detection. She was wanted by authorities for drug dealing and operating an illegal drug cartel when she was apprehended in August of this year, while clothes-shopping in the Zona Sur.

Cristel is part of a new wave of narcas, or queenpins, or narco queens, or drug divas, who have completely revolutionized the face of narco-trafficking throughout Central and South America. Their ascent to positions of power is due in part to the United States’ war on drugs, which has killed or imprisoned men leaving their daughters, wives, lovers and sisters to take their places.

In a new book by Arturo Santamaria Gomez, “Female Bosses of Narco-Traffic”, Gomez describes “widows, daughters, lovers and girlfriends of men in the drug trade have entered the business in increasingly powerful positions. It is arguably easier now for women to punch through the ‘glass ceiling’ when it comes to the drug world than in legitimate business.”

Women like Cristel Gomez and her drug diva sisters are now rocking the money laundering and drug smuggling world throughout Latin America.

Part of the reason this new generation of drug divas has achieved success so rapidly is that unlike the previous generation, these women operate under the radar. A recent visit to Cristel’s (sometimes spelled Kristel) home in La Cuesta de Corredores, Puntarenas, revealed a modest home where she was living with her mother and father of her baby. The house is on a quiet street, behind a high wall, and is not ostentatious in any way. Her uncle was riding around on an old bicycle, keeping an eye on the street. The word that a reporter was looking for information on La Reina del Sur had spread quickly from the taxi stand down the street, and neighbors seemed reluctant to discuss their famous neighbor. A taxi driver explained that La Reina was the financial backbone of the neighborhood, hence the unwillingness to share information.  Never bite the hand that feeds you.

This new breed of narcas has been dubbed “’The Invisibles”, for their ability to hide in plain sight, and conduct their business while leading ordinary lives. This is a far cry from the exaggerated extravagance of the previous generation of drug divas who lived in over-the-top mansions with fantastically expensive cars parked out front, and went out on the town nightly, dripping in jewels and designer clothes.

Insight Crime explains, “Forty years after Pablo Escobar industrialized the drug trade, we now see a new generation of traffickers who learned from their fathers and even grandfathers. They are playing their multimillion-dollar business off the radar, without attracting any attention.” The favorite weapon of Cristel’s generation of trafficker is an encrypted cellphone and a diverse portfolio of legally created businesses. And most will never personally touch even one kilo of cocaine.

Who then will step up to take over Cristel’s drug empire? People on the street in Cristel’s hometown think it’s unlikely that someone from her family will succeed her. However, Puntarenas is known as being the birthplace of criminal activity in the southern zone, so there are probably several drug divas in training. The murder rate in Costa Rica has gone down (560 murders in 2019 vs. 565 in 2018), but in Puntarenas, the murder rate was up (75 more murders in 2019 than in 2018). Walter Espinoza, Director of the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ), explained, “We are concerned about the case of Puntarenas, where there is a huge increase in the number of homicides. We have a report that the social situation in the province is dire, with unemployment problems, youth gangs, and in general, social problems that could be a trigger for more homicides.”

Walter Espinoza added that the main source of violence in Puntarenas is the settling of scores between rival gangs, followed by revenge, and gang quarrels. It makes sense, then, that someone from Cristel’s gang would grab the baton and run with it.

Could she continue to manage her gang herself from prison? This has happened with narco-traffickers throughout Mexico and Central America, people have maintained control of both their subordinates and their businesses for years, right from their jail cells. Phones can be smuggled in, and guards can be bribed – easily.

Cristel had probably the best narco-tafficking training possible from her father Alberto Gomez (now serving 30 years for drug trafficking), and her boyfriend Irving Guido Toruno, who died at age 34, in a paid revenge killing by his number one enemy, Luis Martinez Fajarado, aka. El Pollo. El Pollo took out a hit on El Gringo for c100,000, and the gruesome killing was videotaped, then put up on social media. El Gringo was 34 years old at the time, and died of 139 knife wounds before he was dumped out of the car on a remote San Jose road. Also involved was an ex-soccer player named Rodriguez who had agreed to hide El Gringo, but then betrayed him by telling El Pollo’s gang where he was hiding. El Gringo’s gang called themselves La Galaxia, and were 54-person strong at the time of his death.  La Galaxia were famous for their operational violence, and remarkable for having a 16-year old enforcer (sicario in Spanish), who would handle unpaid debts and revenge killings. This was Cristel’s vocational training.

Someone with a very clear idea of what is happening in the narco-trafficking world of the southern zone, is a criminal lawyer who often defends the narco-traffickers, Lic. Steven Flores Morales, not directly involved in the Gomez case. His thoughts on the narco-trafficking world of Costa Rica, and the role women play in it, will be featured in the next installment.

Don’t miss the 6th Installment:What punishment is La Reina likely to receive?

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.