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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Number Of Women In Drug Cartels And Organized Crime Networks Is Growing

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

Women's involvement in criminal networks across Latin America shouldn't be a surprise, according to "Narcas" author and journalist Deborah Bonello.

Earlier this month, Colombian authorities arrested Venezuelan national Wanda del Valle Bermúdez Viera, better known as "the little baby of crime," who was wanted by Interpol, the FBI and police departments across Latin America.

She was wanted for charges related to sexual exploitation, to extortion, distribution of firearms, contract killings and human trafficking, for which she collected of up to $7 million a month.

The story of Bermúdez Viera, who in 2019 allegedly created the group "Los Llaneros de Sangre Fría" in Peru — a faction of the Venezuelan criminal megagang known as El Tren de Aragua — has been widely disseminated by the Spanish-speaking media, which pointed to her social media presence showing her life of luxury and excess.

Bermúdez Viera is only one example of a much larger phenomenon: the rise of women in the most violent and dangerous structures of organized crime in Latin America. 

A recent study by the International Crisis Group, an independent organization devoted to the analysis of security issues, found that the number of women charged with an offense related to organized crime grew from 5.4% in 2017 to 7.5% in 2021.

“While many of the women accused of belonging to criminal groups may be innocent, the ethnographic data collected by Crisis Group for this report and other expert analysis support the thesis that women are increasingly involved in these groups,” researchers stated in "Partners in Crime: The Rise of Women in Mexican Illegal Groups."

While's there's no official data on the participation of women in organized criminal groups, media coverage indicates that they represent between 5% and 8% of the active personnel of these groups, according to the study.

"Sometimes, criminal organizations offer some women the opportunity to develop a leadership scheme," explains Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a specialist in criminal organizations and an academic at George Mason University, who was not involved in the investigation. "And since prejudice and machismo make them invisible in some way — they can advance in those activities without being seen. And that is one thing that we have to increasingly understand."

According to Crisis Group researchers, in these criminal organizations women occupy positions ranging from “low-level illegal activities solely for subsistence” to the highest positions. That is, some have become the bosses, or the "narcas," criminal leaders who have been fundamental in the operation and, in some cases, the managers of entire structures.

"Something that surprises me a lot is the amazement of people who cannot believe that women know how to organize logistics, how to launder money, even how to execute violent operations," said Deborah Bonello, a journalist specializing in security issues and the author of the recently published "Narcas: The Secret Rise of Women in Latin America's Cartels," which delves into the lives and crimes of some of the most powerful women in criminal structures such as cartels.

"Narcas: The Secret Rise of Women in Latin America's Cartels."Penguin Random House

"If we see that there are women who are managing companies like Meta, banks, super large organizations, why is it so difficult for us to understand that they operate in the same way in the criminal world?" Bonello said.

Operating 'from the shadows'

Bonello’s research concurs with Crisis Group’s findings about the important role that many women currently play in complex criminal structures such as drug cartels.

Although there are famous precedents for women’s incursions into these activities — such as the late Colombian Griselda Blanco and Chilean Yolanda Sarmiento — Bonello’s book depicts the rise and fall of other women who don't fit the scandalous stereotypes forged by notorious criminals such as Pablo Escobar, the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, and Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán.

“I feel that the cartels are not ideological organizations, but business organizations. And when they see that women can kill, launder money, transport merchandise, then they use their capabilities. They do not exclude them because they are women, it is a matter of money, of profits,” Bonello said.

In "Narcas," Bonello tells the story of a number of women, including Mexican Guadalupe Fernández Valencia, who was the right hand of Chapo Guzmán; Sebastiana Cottón Vásquez, a Guatemalan peasant who rose to power within a male mafia; and Marllory Chacón Rossell, Cottón’s collaborator who, according to the DEA, ended up becoming one of the most prolific drug traffickers in Latin America.

It also examines the life of Digna Valle, a criminal matriarch from Honduras who was the female face of the brutal Valle cartel, as well as the Lemus sisters, who grew up in rural Guatemala and built up a brutal force that influenced the politics of their region.

According to the author, one thing that all these women share is their desire to exercise power from the shadows.

"Men like Pablo Escobar and El Chapo created the figure of the Latin American drug trafficker who, by definition, is male. Maybe it is a little naïve or sexist to think that the power of women is going to be the female version of that, as if they would behave like men. In general, I see that women have less desire to attract attention,” she said.

Bonello also highlights in her book that these women tend to enter the business of organized crime later than men. In addition, they create groups that are usually family-based, clans where husbands, children, cousins and other relatives participate. Many come from poor backgrounds with little formal education and few opportunities for legal employment that is as lucrative.

Bonello's observations agrees with the Crisis Group's findings in that criminal groups offer a form of protection that the State and the judicial system fail to provide. In many cases, joining an armed group can be a survival strategy and a way for these women to exercise power in environments where gender violence abounds.

These women overcome obstacles such as inequality, discrimination and machismo and skillfully accumulate large doses of power and crucial operational skills, and perform vital roles for the organizations. In many cases, those responsible for these hierarchical criminal networks tend to hide the fact that women lead many of their operations.

“I don't doubt that there are very powerful women in drug trafficking, but we don't know them, we don't see them because they don't fit into our way of understanding the world," Bonello said. "We are not looking for them because, perhaps, we believe that they are going to behave like El Chapo — the reality is that they behave in a more subtle, more hidden way. I am sure that there are women who have become crucially important in these criminal groups."

Often, Bonello said, the romantic or family ties of women in drug trafficking are used to minimize them or to marginalize their roles in the organizations. She cited Emma Coronel, El Chapo's wife, as an example.

While it's assumed that women are in these organizations by virtue of their relationships, according to Bonello, men are also in the business due to family connections, and yet it's assumed the men's influence is greater or more important. But that is not the case, according to her. "Women exist and, in many cases, are crucial to the success of these criminal organizations,” Bonello said.

Violent and brutal — with lasting repercussions

In most of the cases that Bonello included in her book, women have grown up in violent circumstances and often also carry out violent strategies in order to establish themselves in criminal circles. When participating in drug trafficking, if they are not the ones who kill, they have others who do it for them and generally enjoy the power and adrenaline that characterizes many of the operational actions.

"For example, Digna [Valle] operated in a brutal way when it came to protecting her family and the business. If that meant killing or letting her brothers rape the women of the town, she did it because she understood that is part of preserving power and are strategies to impose terror and control the local population," Bonello said. "In the sense of managing violence, perhaps women do not do it so much with their own hands, but it's not that they don't know how to handle that because they can be very, very violent."

In Mexico, where femicides and gender violence are an ongoing issue, the incursion and rise of women in organized crime is a reality that raises alarms.

"It is a general security problem. All the women I investigated brought their children into the business, as do men, because all organized crime in Latin America has to do with the family. So protecting the business is the same as protecting the family and defending oneself with one’s life, if necessary," Bonello said. "I also believe that the figure of the wife, the girlfriend, the victim is so strong that Colombians and Mexicans find it difficult to believe that women have this capacity of being criminals.”

In "Narcas," one of Bonello’s accomplishments is that she manages to dissect the stories of these women and analyze the effects of their crimes without glorifying them. The illegal nature of their activities and the profound repercussions on the countries they operate are present throughout the chapters.

“Organized crime is the greatest threat to public safety in this entire region because it affects the system of government and the laws, which is why my intention was never to celebrate them or exalt their criminal achievements," Bonello said. "Rather, I feel that policies must be created to prevent women and men from getting into this business because, the truth is, it's not convenient for them. Nobody survives."

NBC News


  1. Using woman to move jale has and still is better way to do thangs.they don’t bring as much attention as a vato moving the jale. Much more to it also but I’ll leave it at that.

  2. At 950. I want to JALE get buseta lol. See what this commment not get posted. lol.
    Good morning Sol. Hope you’re well buddy. Whether this one makes it or not. I wanted to say what’s up also.
    HEY I WANTED TO ASK does safari not let people log in. The reason why I’m annonimus is because the website does let me log In. I’m not using a VPN. So I don’t have a clue why it doesn’t let me use any of my emails. It does make it almost like a log In. But then. It just never shows me as a member of the group. I keep putting RUBIO because of that.

    Rubio NYC

    1. I use to be able to comment from both Android and an IPad easily. But at some point the IOS system changed and now Android is the only one that works for me if I'm wanting to see my moniker. Have you tried to enable/disable your cookies or go through another search engine. This might help.

    2. I’m going try that. Thank you SOL hope you’re having a great day brother.

      Rubio NYC

  3. Breaking news: The hospital Flaquito was at was sorrounded by estatales and he was able to walk out dressed up as a cop, apparently the cameras "were down".

    1. No way?? Lmao fr

    2. TJ is going to get hot. The power has continually shifting for the last ten years. Are the Chapitos selling out theyre partners to appease MZ and get under his wing again?

  4. For the AMLO bashers, there is a live stream on the official Mexico channel of the Tehuantepec Isthmus train. You should tune in.

    1. There's no bashers in here, simply the truth of lazy Obrador is being mentioned, I would not call that bashing.🤔

    2. Lazy Obrador? Again, do you think before you type? This guy just inaugurated a railway that connects the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, and you're saying he's "lazy." I dont think you understand the magnitude of this accomplishment. La neta, no cabe duda que estas bien pero bien tonto mi amigo. Mira, neuro. 🤫calladito mi negro.

    3. Glad grampa Hablador is leaving soon.

    4. 951 you should replace him. I'm sure your strategy would solve all of Mexicos problems and finally bring peace.

  5. Emma is a smokeshow hot mexicana barbie .. she still follows me in IG that's all no new developments in my quest to conquer Emmita while chapo is rotting in Colorado haha

    1. Connor last I Heard she is dating, her female cell mate.

    2. Calmate Conner. You should go outside and talk to a real woman. Emma is OK but settle down.

    3. 10:49 si te haces la operacion Jarocha alomejor si te hace caso

    4. Emma is a 6 tops and with a buzz. Must not be good looking women where your from.

    5. 105pm I have a hot Asian barbie on deck bro but I wamt to add Emma to my stable am I wrong for that lol .. she left me on read in the DM on ig

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. At least it's not another publication by that Anabel journalist....she bugs

  8. Emma looks like a plastic gone wrong

  9. Emma is a strikingly attractive lady considering what she has been through. She was a kingpins daughter. She won a teenage beauty pageant. El Chapo’s started eyeing her at what, 13. Her father married her to the old pervert the day she turned 18. Yuck, an alleged 18 year old virgin pushed into bed with that old ugly nasty short fuck. The Chapo’s killed her father. She had children. Then served time. Common, stop talking like she looks like one of The Adam’s Family or in contrast, she is a super looking pornstar. She is just a product of her environment. Nothing more, nothing less.


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