06/09/12 – In an historic ruling, Mexican courts ruled that Sandra Ávila Beltrán, infamously known as the “Queen of the Pacific” or “La Reina del Pacífico” for her innovation of U.S.-Mexico drug trafficking routes, can indeed be extradited to the United States. This decision overturns a previous legal ruling that determined Ávila Beltrán could not be tried in the United States on the basis of double jeopardy because she had already been tried and acquitted on similar trafficking charges in Mexico in 2010. (Read more about the initial ruling here). On June 7, however, a panel of Mexican judges found that Ávila Beltrán could be tried on a separate charge relating to a 2001 shipment of 100 kilos of cocaine to Chicago, as long as prosecutors refiled the charges to exclude charges based on her previous Mexican trials.
Ávila Beltrán is a unique figure within the Mexican drug cartel scene. The niece of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo–”the godfather” of Mexican drug smuggling who is currently incarcerated for his role in DEA agent Enrique Camarena’s murder in 1985–, she grew up within the trafficking community as a part of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Queen of the Pacific worked her way up through the male dominated hierarchy, occasionally using high profile romances with cartel leaders to advance her position. Prosecutors have suggested it was one such romance with Juan Diego Espinoza, a Colombian kingpin, that cemented the relationship between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Colombian drug trafficking organization, Norte del Valle. Her gender and her appearance make Ávila an intriguing figure within the Mexican cartel scene and some argue that she has skillfully utilized her glamorous image to avoid convictions.
While the expected extradition serves as an example of the cooperation between Mexico and the United States to jointly combat drug trafficking, the case is nevertheless a reminder of the notoriously corrupt and weak judicial system in Mexico. The judge who originally barred Ávila Beltrán’s extradition, Judge Jesús Guadalupe Luna Altimirano, is currently under investigation by Mexico’s Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (Subprocurarduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia, SIEDO) for “having committed various irregularities as a member of the law and for granting freedom and benefits to presumed members of organized crime, among them Sandra Ávila,” reported La Jornada. Not one week before the court overturned Ávila Beltrán’s extradition, the Council of the Federal Judiciary (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF) indefinitely suspended Judge Luna Altimirano for acquitting and freeing suspected money launderer Arturo Arredondo. As La Jornada Michoacán reported, this is the judge’s second suspension, the first in 2009 for three months after he publicly accused a fellow judge of finding Archibaldo Guzmán guilty based on incorrect facts and evidence–Guzmán being the son of Mexico’s number one drug kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán of the Sinaloa Cartel. Thus, while the ruling for extradition on June 7 was indeed important, it is also a reminder of the difficulties and challenges Mexico’s judicial system faces.