One of the most intriguing characters in Narcos: Mexico comes in the form of Isabella Bautista, a close associate of drug lord Felix Gallardo who is repeatedly mistreated by the kingpin as she positions for power in the patriarchal drug trafficking world. (Warning: There will be some plot spoilers for Narcos: Mexico in this article.)
Is Isabella Bautista a real person? What’s the true story? There was no woman in Felix Gallardo’s circle named Isabella Bautista, and many of the character’s interactions with Felix are fictional; however, the details of Isabella’s story do track pretty closely with the life of a real woman affiliated with drug traffickers. Her name is Sandra Ávila Beltrán. (You can see photos of the other real people who inspired Narcos: Mexico here.)
She has been nicknamed “The Queen of the Pacific.” Some also dubbed her the “Queen of Cocaine.” In Narcos, Isabella is placed by actress Teresa Ruiz.
In Narcos, Felix reveals in one scene that he thinks of Isabella like a niece. That revelation comes when his wife questions a visit the female drug trafficker in the show made to him. In the Netflix series, Isabella Bautista must navigate in an excessively patriarchal world. Felix uses her for her connections to Colombian cartels, in particular, but then he cuts her out of a verbal deal to give her a big cut and control of one of the Mexican drug markets. In real life, Sandra Ávila Beltrán was the niece of Felix Gallardo.
Here’s what you need to know:
Sandra Ávila Beltrán’s Colorful Life & Exploits
The real Queen of the Pacific has led a colorful life that exceeds that shown by Netflix. According to The Guardian, Beltran lost two husbands and a brother to the cocaine wars. All three were murdered; one was shot, one was stabbed, and one was tortured, Guardian reports.
Accused of being involved in the drug trade since the 1970s, she earned her nickname because she was accused of organizing “a fleet of tuna boats laden with 10 tons of cocaine each” headed from Mexico to the United States, according to The Guardian.
Refinery29 reports that Sandra Ávila Beltrán is related to “both Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Rafael Caro Quintero,” the founders of the Guadalajara cartel who are heavily featured in Narcos: Mexico and who received lengthy prison terms for the murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Kiki Camarena (although Quintero is now on the run.) CNN reports that she is Gallardo’s niece.
It’s also true, Refinery29 reports, that Beltrán “was the essential link between cartel leaders in Colombia and Mexico” during the 1980s, which is the period of time covered by Narcos: Mexico’s Season 1. In the Netflix series, Isabella Bautista provides the introductions that Felix needs to the gentlemen of Cali.
The actress, Teresa Ruiz, told Refinery29 of the role of Isabella, “There was a woman in the ‘80s that had a role of introducing cocaine into the business when it was just being led by marijuana. I knew this character was bound to come up in Narcos: Mexico, and that’s the character I wanted.”
In 2015, CNN reported that Beltrán was released from prison. Three years before, she was extradited to the U.S. and accused of “conspiring to smuggle cocaine along with Juan Diego Espinosa Ramirez, a Colombian national who was also known as ‘The Tiger,'” according to CNN. She denied the allegations, but a report alleged she was a “senior member of the Sinaloa cartel who was instrumental” in the drug trade, CNN reports, adding that she was deported to Mexico and released there when a judge determined she couldn’t be charged with the same thing in both countries. She inspired a book and a ballad and became a folk legend.
According to NBC News, “It was her romance with Espinoza Ramirez that brought together two powerful cocaine organizations, Mexico’s Sinaloa gang and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel.” She ran “public relations” for Sinaloa Cartel, NBC News alleged.
She once appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper show. You can read the transcript here. Anderson Cooper told viewers, “Beltran was born into a drug trafficking family. Two of her husbands were assassinated. Both were cops allegedly working for the cartels.” When Cooper asked Beltran whether it was possible to wipe out drug trafficking, she responded, “I don’t think so. You’d have to wipe out the government to wipe out drug trafficking.”
According to Women in the World, “Born into cartel royalty, Ávila had a lavish childhood marked by trips to Disneyland and dance lessons, but she also spent hours counting cash.” The article says that she wanted to be a journalist once but a boyfriend brought her back into the world of drug trafficking. “Camaros, Trans-Am, Mercedes, Audi, I had them all,” she once said to The Guardian.
She was born to Alfonso Ávila Quintero, Rafa’s relative, Guardian reports. She has a son who was once held for $5 million ransom, and she was friends with El Chapo. She has been described as a diva who claimed she was a housewife but who is rumored to have had affairs with cartel bosses, NBC News reported.