If you were travelling from the United States to México in the early 90s by sea, you would've almost certainly spotted a ship commanded by Sandra Ávila Beltrán. Beltrán controlled a fleet of over 10 ships, which moved thousands of kilos of cocaine from México to the US. She managed a plaza of over a hundred men, ranging from simple mules to deadly sicarios or mercenaries. In a world where men ruled the Mexican land, Sandra Beltrán ruled the sea.
Women, who play a significant role in Mexican drug warfare, are often overlooked as just civilian observers or silent victims. More often than not, women are dragged into this vicious war through familial or romantic ties to a drug lord or a law enforcement officer. However, Mexican women are much more than just scapegoats.
Beltrán was born into what was the criminal equivalent of an aristocratic household. She grew up watching the cocaine trade and fatal violence. But Beltrán was a woman of varied interests. In Guadalajara, she went on to study investigative journalism. Soon enough, her old life caught up with her as she was kidnapped by a former narco boyfriend. Within a matter of days, any hopes she had of leading a crime-free life were squashed.
One could argue that it was in her fate to get involved in the business, but Beltrán resisted till the very end. When she was finally roped in, she made up her mind that if she was going to be part of the drug trade, she would not be a taciturn bystander. Beltrán discerned what happened to women in México if they stood by and did nothing. She knew that as long as she kept moving forward, no one could hurt her.
So that's what she did. Fighting against all odds, Sandra Beltrán became the most powerful female drug lord in México, etching her name onto history books forever. She has been the subject matter of many films and novella. She was also the inspiration for Isabella Bautista's character on Narcos: México, portrayed by Teresa Ruiz. Beltrán left behind a legacy that future generations would recount as one of the most iconic acts of women empowerment in the past.
While it might seem like these media are glorifying a dangerous criminal or drug violence, it is the exact opposite. Beltrán's story is more than just a story of a female outlaw in a pool full of men. It is a story of a heroine, a pioneer, a fighter. In her own words, women in the Mexican drug world were treated as plastic toys. They were abused, slandered and tossed out. And she was determined not to end up like that.
Beltrán fought age-old traditional norms in México, struggling for a share on the table. Instead of working with the Americans through Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo's federation like the other plaza bosses in the region, she chose to be an independent retailer, interacting with the USA directly. She didn't just want to be invited to their parties and fiestas; she wanted to be at their meetings and board rooms too.
When asked if she regretted her line of profession, Sandra Ávila Beltrán firmly disagreed. She did what she had to - to defend herself and those around her. She dared to build not just a future but an empire for herself in a place where women didn't even dare to venture outside their homes. Beltrán was the Queen of the Pacific, La Reina del Pacífico, in the truest sense. And even years later, those who travel across the Pacific Ocean remember her ships with a feeling of admiration and just a tinge of terror.