High-risk riches for Mexico's "narco wives"

Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:16am EST
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By Catherine Bremer

CULIACAN, Mexico (Reuters) - Teenage girls in northwest Mexico are dazzled by the glamorous "narco wives" who laze in beauty salons, draped in designer gear, getting Swarovski crystals glued onto their fingernails.

Each year, dozens compete in beauty pageants in the sun-baked hills of Sinaloa state where their legendary good looks draw wealthy drug traffickers who will sometimes pluck one out and spirit her off to a mountain hide-out.

Career prospects are few for Sinaloan girls, and landing a prominent drug trafficker means entering a world of untold riches -- luxury mansions, SUVs, endless spa sessions and a closet full of the priciest labels on the planet.

The dangers of getting sucked into the gangland world have jumped, however, as an army crackdown by President Felipe Calderon has sparked new turf wars and hitmen ignore old codes against slaying their enemies' wives, girlfriends or children.

In a sobering reminder of the risks they run, the reigning "Miss Sinaloa" beauty queen was arrested last month with her smuggler boyfriend in a truck full of guns and cash.

Days earlier, a top drug boss's former lover was found dead in a car trunk with "Z"s -- the mark of a rival gang's hit squad -- cut into her breasts, belly and buttocks.

"It's dangerous to get involved with these people. The risk is there for any pretty girl," said model agency director Juan Manuel Alvarado in his office, crammed with trophies and photos in fake leopard-fur frames, in the state capital Culiacan.

Sinaloans say their striking looks come from tall indigenous ancestors who mixed with French, German and Greek settlers, and the state is rich with swashbuckling tales of drug lords whisking girls from villages, luring them to parties at ranches or even kidnapping them at gunpoint.   Continued...

<p>A woman shows her nails decorated with marijuana leaves and images of narco patron saint Jesus Malverde in the northwestern city of Culiacan in this May 14, 2008 file photo. Rosenberg/Files</p>