By Paula Escalada Medrano.
Beauty queens in search of money, jewelry and other accoutrements of the high life and drug lords looking to impress and woo these women with their wealth and power are a much more frequent tandem in Mexico than one might suspect.
"These links between drug lords and beauty queens and, in general, between beauty queens and economic, political and criminal power, are a constant. Young women are sought out by criminals in schools, on the street," journalist and writer Javier Valdez told Efe in an interview.
Valdez is the author of the book "Miss Narco" and lives in Sinaloa, the western state when the winner of a local beauty contest was killed Saturday during a shootout between suspected cartel gunmen and Mexican army soldiers.
The 22-year-old Maria Susana Flores was with her boyfriend - a member of an organized crime gang, according to media reports - and an AK-47 rifle was found very close to her body.
Flores won the Sinaloa Woman contest and competed in the Our Sinaloa Beauty contest, which she did not win.
"I'm surprised to see people shocked and upset once again over these incidents," Valdez said. "The fact is this phenomenon, this link between organized crime and beauty, this at times mutual seduction and attraction are a constant."
In his book, he tells the story of the 2008 winner of Our Sinaloa Beauty, Laura Elena Zuñiga, who was arrested along with her boyfriend and six other men on firearms and money laundering charges on Dec. 23 of that year in the western city of Zapopan.
The beauty queen was released a few weeks later due to a lack of evidence linking her to organized crime, but her story was widely reported and even inspired Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo's 2011 film "Miss Bala."
Sinaloa is home to the drug cartel led by Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman - the world's most-wanted fugitive, according to Forbes magazine - but other criminal organizations also operate in the area.
"In these regions of the country, drug trafficking ceased to be a police phenomenon of good guys and bad guys. It's a way of life that contaminates us, taints us, conditions our work and daily life," Valdez said.
Drug traffickers and beauty queens have a mutual need for one another, the former because "they see them as trophies, like objects, like furniture you have to show off" and the latter because "they want power, wealth, privileges and the trappings of criminality."
The link between drug trafficking and beauty is so strong that cartels even sponsor beauty contests and some contest organizers have criminal ties.
"In Culiacan (Sinaloa's capital), a really good-looking girl is said to 'smell like gunpowder,' because surely she must have a connection to some drug trafficker and it's best not to get near her because they could kill you," Valdez said.
Many of these women, like the drug traffickers they are drawn to, are fatalistic, Valdez said.
"They assume they'll die soon, just like the young kids who become hit men, and they go in for the same reason because it'll go really well for them for the two or three years that it may last," the writer said. EFE