I’m just back from Mexico where I spent a few days in the town of Escuinapa.
Escuinapa is in Sinaloa – a state with a heavy burden caused by the drug war and the fearsome cartel that bears the state’s name.
Here’s a video I made with an alternative view of the area. (I’m loving working video for another kind of storytelling, though clearly I’m still a technical babe in arms. Feel free to subscribe to my video channel, True Tales Video.)
I spoke there at a tourism conclave.
It was great to return to Mexico these last few days. I hope to go back a lot more now that I’m no longer with the LA Times.
I was also in Mazatlan, also in Sinaloa, and a couple hours away. Mazatlan is my favorite Mexican resort town, largely because along with spectacular beaches, there’s actually a city with real life going on. Its Old Town is one of the nicest in all of Mexico, and it’s hard to beat the pulmonias (golf cart taxis) as a mode of transportation.
More from there later.
But I was very happy to help present the new book by my friend, Arturo Santamaria, the sociologist who introduced me to the topic of beauty queens in Mazatlan.
De Carnaval, Reinas y Narc0 is about how beauty queens, beauty contests and drug trafficking all work together in Mazatlan and in Sinaloa.
In 1990, Francisco Arellano Felix was owner of Frankie Oh’s – a crass discoteque built with a Flintstones prehistoric decor of large stucco boulders along Mazatlan’s beachfront drive. He was known to be anxious to enter the city’s high society. He was a friend of the great Mexican middle-weight, Julio Cesar Chavez.
That February, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga was selected Queen of Carnival, one of the most high-profile positions in Mazatlan. She was 17, a fresh-faced high school student from a middle-class family.
A few months later, a small article appeared in the newspaper reporting that Rocio del Carmen had disappeared. Not only that, but that possibly she had been stolen by Francisco Arellano Felix. The newspaper said that her family was distraught, feared for her safety and hired private detectives to search for her.
Mazatlan spun with rumors. But though the reigning Queen of Carnival had apparently been stolen by a member of one of the state’s most notorious drug-running families, newspapers published only occasional short stories below the fold.
There were reports the couple was in Guadalajara, that they had married in a church. (Turned out that the bishop in the area refused to marry them, and they had to resort to a minor priest to perform the service.)
Finally, Rocio del Carmen’s mother, Oliva Lizarraga, told reporters she had spoken with Arellano Felix, who had not let her speak with her daughter, since “she was showering.”
The mother said her daughter, and her now-jilted fiancee, Oscar Coppel, from one of Mazatlan’s wealthiest families, were “victims of destiny” and that “God was the only one who can put things in their place.”
It was all very surreal.
Finally, the episode concluded when Rocio del Carmen took out a large newspaper ad with a short letter that is both thoroughly bizarre and a beautiful exposition of Mexican fatalism.
She was in Mazatlan, she wrote. She thanked people for their support, but added, “I don’t want to be asked by anyone because it would be embarrassing to have to say whether I left of my own will or was taken by force.
“I don’t want to judge the father of my children and he who gave me his last name, since he’s never mistreated me. I accept with resignation the path that destiny has prepared for me, and if God has put me on this road, I have to continue.”
She signed the ad, “Your friend, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga de Arellano.”
And with that the episode ended, as quietly as it began.
About the worst that came down were pronouncements from Mazatlan’s high society. Arellano Felix “will never be accepted by the Mazatlan society that he wanted to enter,” Ernesto Coppel, owner of one of the city’s largest hotels, father of a Senorita Sinaloa and uncle of Rocio del Carmen’s ex-fiancee, said at the time.
Today, the AF cartel is nothing like what it once was. One other AF brother, the feared Ramon, was killed in 2002. Three others are in US prisons. And so the death of this Arellano Felix is more about history than anything else.