Netflix in row over inspiration for Mexican drug 'queen' show

Sandra Avila Beltran is seen at Mexico City international airport in August 2013 after her deportation from the United States

A Mexican woman whose links to drug traffickers earned her the nickname “Queen of the Pacific” is demanding compensation from Netflix for an award-winning show that she says is based on her life.

Sandra Avila Beltran has filed a claim with Mexico’s intellectual property agency alleging that the character Teresa Mendoza in “La Reina del Sur” (Queen of the South) is inspired by her own story.

Avila Beltran wants 40 percent of the royalties from Netflix and Spanish-language television network Telemundo, her lawyer Israel Razo told Milenio TV, saying the show had hurt the 61-year-old’s reputation.

“Living with the nickname of a drug trafficker is very difficult,” he said.

In response, Netflix and Telemundo argued that Avila Beltran’s life is “a matter of public interest” so there are no grounds for a complaint, according to documents published by Milenio’s sister newspaper.

A source close to the matter confirmed to AFP that Avila Beltran had taken her case to the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property, but declined to give details.

She was first arrested in Mexico City in 2007 with her boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinosa, who was accused of being a go-between for the infamous Sinaloa drug cartel and Colombian traffickers.

Avila Beltran was acquitted of charges of handling illicit funds in 2012 and extradited to the United States to face accusations of conspiring to import cocaine.

She struck a plea bargain that resulted in a conviction on charges of helping Espinosa to avoid arrest, and a judge sentenced her to time served and deported her back to Mexico in 2013.

Avila Beltran, whose nickname comes from a drug ballad written in her honor, was released in 2015 after a Mexican judge ruled that she could not be tried twice for the same crime.

“La Reina del Sur” is based on the novel with the same name by Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte about a Mexican woman with links to drug lords.

The second season of the television series won an International Emmy Award for Best Non-English Language US Primetime Program in 2020.