Laura Zuniga Huizer, 23, was a promising talent. Not only was she a beautiful preschool teacher, she was crowned Miss Sinaloa in July, won Miss Hispanoamerica in Bolivia two months ago and was set to compete in Miss International, the third-biggest contest in order of global pageants.
On December 22, 2008, Zuñiga’s world of beauty and promise came crashing down as she was arrested in military roadblock near Guadalajara, Mexico. The Mexican army after receiving an “anonymous tip” arrested the beauty queen along with seven men known to be involved in the Juarez Cartel.
“She is the beauty queen of Sinaloa and was aboard an SUV with the weapons and several of the men. No one expected this young woman to be aboard, along with more than a dozen cell phones, lots of cash, pistols, bullets and two assault rifles” said a police spokesman from western Jalisco state, home to Guadalajara.
Standing alongside seven sleazy-looking drug traffickers, two AR-15 assault rifles, .38-caliber specials, 9 mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges, 16 cellular telephones and $53,300 in U.S. currency, laid out on the table, it was obvious she hadn’t taken seriously the reality that Mexico is at war with traffickers who are a cancer destroying our country.
Whether she is guilty or not of drugtrafficking remains unclear, but in an ordinary society, a beauty queen like Zuñiga would recoil at the sight of these filthy cartel members. The fact that one of the prettiest girls in the country is attracted to these monsters is one reason why it’s so hard to get rid of them.
“This is a clear example of how organized crime has gotten into the very marrow of society in the whole country,” wrote one of more than 200 anonymous commentators responding to Zuniga’s arrest online in a Culiacan newspaper.
The drug trade lures all kinds of people with its promise of easy money and God-like status. The narcocorrido ballads of northern Mexico glorify traffickers as Robin Hoods. Young children “dream” of growing up to become drug dealers.
So many young women in Culiacan, Zuniga’s hometown, have taken up with gangsters that they have become an instantly recognizable subculture at local shopping malls and fancy restaurants.
A recent article in Eme-Equis, a Mexico City magazine, snidely described the typical Sinaloa gangster consort — called a “buchona” in local slang — as a striking young woman who is overly coiffed and, overly dressed.
“Once seen, she is impossible to forget. It is said she belongs to a (gangster) who pays for her every whim. She is part of his luggage, fulfills his erotic fantasies, is used by him to show off.” Eme-Equis
The violence has hit innocent bystanders, like the random citizens senselessly murdered in a Monterrey-area jewelry store in 2007, their deaths caught on a security camera. If Mexico wants to win this war, we must find a way to curb this unhealthy cultural idolization of traffickers as much as fighting the traffickers themselves.
Public service messages aren’t enough: It will take making an example of anyone who could be looked up to as a role model. It will also take getting the truth out about traffickers; especially their selfish, desperate, destructive and violent existence.
The only thing that can possibly counteract drug dealing’s lure on our youth, is terrible consequences, not just for the traffickers, but for those who enable them. That includes potential role models.
Zuñiga already has at least a dozen lawyers offering to take her case. Although she has aknowledged to being the girlfriend of one of the men arrested with her, Orlando Garcia Urquiza (a reported top operator in the Carillo Fuentes organization based in Cd. Juarez), she claims she had no idea they were drugtraffickers and claims the $53,000 dollars was to be used for their shopping trips in Bolivia and Colombia. Most cocaine smuggled through Mexico to U.S. consumers comes from Bolivia or Colombia.
Orlando Garcia’s brother, Ricardo, was identified as the Juarez Cartel’s acting boss when he was arrested three years ago. Police said Ricardo Garcia, a former medical school student nicknamed “the Doctor,” was responsible for smuggling up to 20 percent of the cocaine reaching the United States when arrested.
The Carrillo Fuentes organization, named after the family that has controlled it for nearly two decades, is now locked into a turf war in Juarez with Sinaloan gangsters led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The fighting has claimed nearly 1,600 lives in the city of 1.3 million people this year.
Jose Cruz Carrillo, the youngest brother of the family, went missing and is presumed dead after being arrested by Mexican soldiers, or men disguised as them, at his home outside Culiacan in October. Another brother was shot and killed in Culiacan in 2005.
Whatever the true circumstances and consequences of her arrest, Zuniga’s latest challenge brazenly shines light on the extent to which gangster culture has entered the mainstream of Sinaloa and other states where drug smuggling has become a way of life.
Nobody likes seeing a Mexican beauty queen in a prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, but if Mexico wants to ever have a chance in this war against drugs, the State will have to be hard and come down not only on the known cartel members arrested with her, but on Zuñiga as well. The idolization must come to an end and it must be known that in the war on drugs, there is no such thing as innocent associating with drug cartels and traffickers.
Note: At this time, the state was granted a 40 day investigative arraignment on Ms. Zuñiga, meaning she can be held without bail while investigations proceed. She has officially been stripped of both her Miss Sinaloa and Miss Hispanoamerica titles by the pageant commissions.