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'Queen of the South' is loosely based on the real-life personality of Sandra Ávila Beltrán. Here's what we know about the Mexican cartels.

The real Mexican cartels featured in ‘Queen of the South’

Queen of the South is loosely based on the real-life personality of Sandra Ávila Beltrán and her rise to power. Beltrán is a Mexican drug cartel leader who was arrested in 2007 and later released in 2015. What’s unique about Sandra Ávila Beltrán is that she has connections to both the Colombian Norte Valle Cartel as well as the Sinaloa Cartel, which makes her a key figure of interest for drug law enforcement officials.

Is Queen of the South too close to reality?

Teresa’s own cartel, the Mendoza Cartel, doesn’t seem to be based on any real cartels; however, some of the cartels in Queen of the South are not only inspired by real cartels, but also named after them. Most notably, the Sinaloa Cartel is inspired and named after the real-life cartel of the same name that’s still active today.

Who are the Sinaloa in Queen of the South?

The Sinaloa Cartel has been active for 32 years, since its founding in 1988. According to the United States Intelligence Community, the Sinaloa Cartel is one of the most powerful drug-trafficking organizations in the world. One of the more high-ranking arrests from the Sinaloa Cartel has been the capture of Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera in 2016, also known as El Chapo.

In real life, Sandra Ávila Beltrán has kinship with the heads of the Sinaloa Cartel through the Beltrán-Leyva Brothers. In Queen of the South, Teresa Mendoza absorbs the Sinaloa Cartel into her own, strengthening the Mendoza Cartel. It’s an interesting choice for Queen of the South to use the Sinaloa Cartel name, considering they’re still active, but it adds an authentic level of verisimilitude to the series. 

What other cartels are there in Queen of the South?

The next cartel is again based on a real cartel, but the name is slightly changed in Queen of the South. The Colombian Cartel might have been inspired by the Colombian Norte Valle Cartel that abruptly stopped operations in 2009. Again, Sandra Ávila Beltrán has a connection to this cartel: it’s thought that her relationship with an important member of the Colombian Norte Valle Cartel is what catapulted her queenpin career.   

The Colombian Norte Valle Cartel was one of the most powerful cartels in Colombia in its time. The Norte Vale was responsible for killing thousands and was famous for its violent tactics. In 2003 the cartel took part in a gruesome gang war that led to the arrest of a number of top cartel leaders and a weakening of their power. Eventually some high-ranking members were captured in 2009 and the cartel was slowly dismantled. 

Where did these ideas for Queen of the South come from?

The author of the original Queen of the South novel, Pérez-Reverte, was also inspired by Mexican narcocorridos (drug ballads) when writing his novel. What’s unique about these ballads is that, much like the cartels in Queen of the South, they all refer to specific events, dates, and places that relate to cartel activity. Though we can’t be certain, much of what happens in Queen of the South might be closer to reality than we might think.

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