Latin America: Narco-traffickers use women to smuggle narcotics
By Dialogo January 03, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Colombian model Angie Sanclemente Valencia aspired to make a name for herself strutting across fashion runways but instead found her name somewhere else: in crime stories in some of the world’s biggest newspapers.
Sanclemente was recently sentenced to 6 years and 8 months on narco-trafficking charges.
Her tale is just another chapter in the story linking beautiful women and drug-traffickers throughout Latin America.
Sanclemente was born in Colombia but was living in Mexico when she fell in love with Argentine model Nicolás Gualco in 2009. The couple moved in together eight days after meeting in a disco.
“Everything happened as if it were a curse,” recalled her mother, Janette Valencia. “It was love at first sight and after a year, they decided to get married in Argentina. That’s where the ordeal began.”
Sanclemente, who is known as the “Queen of Cocaine” in reference to a beauty title she won in Colombia in 2000, arrived in Argentina with her boyfriend at the end of 2009.
A week later, a woman arrested at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza airport carrying 55 kilograms (121 pounds) of cocaine identified Sanclemente and several others as coordinators of an international narco-trafficking organization.
After more than six months as a fugitive – Sanclemente claimed she was afraid of being mistreated in jail – she was arrested at a hostel for foreigners in the Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires on May 26, 2010. She had bleached her hair and added some weight, trying to pose as a Mexican student.
During the investigation and her subsequent trial, Sanclemente was adamant about her innocence, claiming she’d been deceived by Gualco, who during the trial maintained the Colombian model had no knowledge about the alleged crime.
The judges, however, didn’t believe either of them.
According to the prosecution, the gang had planned to send a cocaine-filled valise from Argentina to Cancún every 24 hours, with Spain its final destination. The operation called for using attractive women, each of whom would be paid US$5,000 per trip.
The judges were convinced Sanclemente was in charge of recruiting young women to be used as mules.
Sanclemente is serving her sentence at Argentina’s Ezeiza penitentiary as her mother reflects upon how her daughter, destined to wear some of the world’s most coveted clothes, ended up behind bars on drug charges.
“She’s a very beautiful woman who could have gotten anything she wanted without much effort,” Valencia said.
But Sanclemente’s story is not unique.
Andrés Rabinovich, an attorney who specializes in drug trafficking, said narco-traffickers’ employing beautiful women as drug mules is a strategy to “evade migration controls by sending people who don’t fit the profiles for the classic ‘mules,’ which used to be needy youths, of humble appearance and whose want of money would make them [willing to] carry the drugs in their stomachs.”
Narco-traffickers are banking authorities won’t suspect that beautiful, well-dressed women are smuggling drugs, Rabinovich said.
“Drug traffickers hope that this way the carriers won’t be subjected to as many searches,” he said. “Along those lines, someone who’s well-known in show business commands a different type of respect, and nobody would suspect they have drugs on them.”
But that stereotype is being erased. On July 4, Argentine police arrested 18-year-old Argentine model Daiana Antivero, accusing her of belonging to a Dutch band that smuggled drugs to the Netherlands.
Antivero’s alleged role was discovered when a judge ordered her phone lines tapped, after her boyfriend – Suriname native Hendrix Benkienaboys Dasman – was suspected of leading an international narco-trafficking gang.
Antivero is free on bail awaiting trial.
In October 2006, Argentine models María Belén Tellez and Jésica Almada were arrested at the airport in Barcelona, Spain, after drugs were found inside luggage belonging to their agent, who was accompanying them on their trip.
After spending two years in a Spanish prison, and having lived through what they describe as “hell,” they were finally released. The prosecution ultimately decided neither had known about the narcotics, but their agent was sentenced to 11 years in prison for drug trafficking.
Meantime, in Peru, there was the well-publicized case of top model Malú Costa, who in 2007 was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping her boyfriend sell ecstasy in some of Lima’s top discos. Entertainer Paola Ruiz also spent 15 days in jail in 2008 while police investigated her relationship with alleged Peruvian drug lord Jorge Castillo Segura.
In Mexico, former Colombian beauty queen Juliana Sossa was arrested in Mexico City in January of last year along with her boyfriend and one of the country’s most-wanted drug lords, José Jorge Balderas Barza. Sossa will stand trial on charges of involvement in organized crime and possessing military-grade firearms.
In Bolivia, model Mariana Molina – known as the “Queen of the Santa Cruz de la Sierra Carnival” – was investigated last year on money-laundering charges. The government obtained documents it said linked her to alleged Colombian drug lord John Wilson Díaz Vélez and the smuggling of 944 kilos (2,081 pounds) of cocaine into Spain onboard a jet owned by Argentine brothers Gustavo and Eduardo Juliá, known members of the Colombian North Valley Cartel.
Molina was arrested on narco-trafficking charges and is awaiting a trial date.