October 19, 2007

Death of a Border Queen

By Louie Gilot

She might not have a hit ballad crooned in her name, but Rosa Emma Carvajal Ontiversos was something of a legend in the Mexican border town of Palomas across the New Mexico line. Called “La Guera Polvos,” or “The Blonde Powder Woman,” Carvajal was reputedly the “mera mera,” or “big boss woman” in blues lingo, of the small town. Allegedly, she was in the business of selling dope and smuggling undocumented immigrants into the United States. Well-known to the local cops, Carvajal reportedly led a crowd that stormed and ransacked the offices of the Palomas police station during a 2004 dispute with the boys in blue. More recently, she supposedly shot a young woman in a fit of jealously over a young lover.

Early on the evening of October 6, Carvajal was driving through the streets of Palomas when she was suddenly ambushed. Witnesses said that a pick up pulled alongside Carvajal’s vehicle and riddled the 53-year-old woman with bullets. Carvajal’s gangland-style murder was among the latest acts of violence to unnerve Palomas, a seemingly sleepy small town where US residents travel to get their teeth fixed or to buy a cheap Mexican souvenir. Palomas is also an important hub of organized crime.

Murders and kidnappings have long disturbed the peace in ironically-named Palomas, which in Spanish means “doves.” Occasionally, the violence spills over to New Mexico. Last month, a wounded Oklahoma man arrived at the Columbus Port of Entry after suffering a gunshot wound on the other side of the border. In a bizarre incident earlier this year, a car sped through the port of entry transporting a dead driver, whose face had been disfigured by bullets, while a passenger struggled to steer the vehicle. A third passenger was also dead and a fourth one was wounded. Minutes prior to the chaotic scene, US Customs and Border Protection officers listened to automatic gunfire rip the early morning calm of Palomas.

On another level, the murder of “La Guera Polvos” presented another instance of women in the annals of organized crime. Far from being just girlfriends of drug traffickers or simple “mules” who transport drugs, women are moving up in the ranks of the business. Tijuana’s Arellano-Felix drug cartel, for instance, is headed up by Enendina Arellano Felix, according to some reports.

For weeks Mexican media have been captivated by Sand-ra Avila Beltran, the so-called “Queen of the Pacific,”. Recently detained by Mexican federal police, Avila is allegedly a major connection in the international cocaine business. The 46-year-old woman is part of the third generation of a Sinaloa-based family that counts iconic traffickers including Rafael Caro Quintero and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo.

Sexy and sassy, and enjoying the poise of a big screen star, Avila is accused of moving tons of Colombian cocaine through Mexican ports. The sagas of Avila and other reputed narco-women have inspired songwriters and novelists. Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte’s acclaimed novel, The Queen of the South, tells the story of an Avila-like drug lord. Always on the cutting edge of popular events and culture, Los Tigres del Norte sang a 1987 tune, Camelia la Texana, that’s about a woman drug smuggler who shoots a man and disappears with the dough. As part of its song list, Los Tucanes de Tijuana performs a narco-corrido about none other than Sandra Avila Beltran. It remains to be seen if the tale of “La Guera Polvos” is one day heard rising from a cantina jukebox.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Return to the Frontpage