What is the role of women in drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico (and how it has been increasing)

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What is the role of women in drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico (and how it has been increasing)




Emma Coronel, wife of "El Chapo", is the latest partner of a Mexican drug lord to be accused of actively participating in her husband


© Getty Images
Emma Coronel, wife of “El Chapo”, is the latest partner of a Mexican drug lord to be accused of actively participating in her husband’s business.


The United States’ accusation that led to the recent arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s wife is blunt in describing her alleged degree of involvement in the capo’s criminal activities.

The judicial indictment on Emma Coronel, who faces charges of international drug trafficking, affirms that the young woman had complete knowledge of the operations of the Sinaloa cartel led by her husband and that, allegedly, she participated in some of its operations.

“Colonel understood that the proceeds of the drugs that he controlled during his marriage with Guzmán derived from these shipments (from drugs to the US). From 2012 to 2014, he transmitted messages on behalf of Guzmán to promote drug trafficking activities while he tried to avoid his capture by the Mexican authorities, “the document reads.

The young woman is even accused of conspiring so that “El Chapo” could escape from a jail in Mexico by paying a millionaire bribe to officials before he was finally extradited to New York and sentenced to life imprisonment.

It will be the justice that determines the veracity of this investigation in which anonymous cooperating witnesses and letters are cited, but judging by the charges, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seems to be clear that Colonel she was by no means alien to the “El Chapo” business.

As supposedly in her case, the presence of women in drug trafficking and other organized crime activities has grown in recent years in Mexico and, with this, their roles have also varied.

“The role of women in general has been increasing in these organizations. Coronel also comes from a family of drug traffickers and, because of his age, he is not a person who could have been passively “with what was happening around him, he tells BBC Mundo Alberto Islas, security expert.

Precisely because of this conditioning environment and because of the characteristics of a world completely dominated by men, understand the reasons why women get involved in it it is much more complex than to associate it with a simple and unique desire for power and money.

Various Roles

According to the 2020 report “Women and organized crime in Latin America: more than victims or perpetrators,” women “not only exercise a multiplicity of roles, but also fluctuate fluidly between the condition of victims and objects and that of protagonists and active subjects of criminal actions “.

However, the report from the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia and InSight Crime identifies that the majority of women in these groups assume criminal roles of low responsibility that male leaders delegate to them.



Most women in organized crime assume low-responsibility roles that male leaders grant them.


© AFP
Most women in organized crime assume low-responsibility roles that male leaders grant them.


These roles range from working in drug crops, such as “mules” to transport substances, in logistical and financial organization or in micro-trafficking or “drug dealing”, among others.

However, and although they are a clear minority, the study highlights that there are also women “who exercise different roles of their own free will, that they can be protagonists and sometimes of leadership “.

In the case of Mexico, one of the most recognized names is that of Enedina Arellano Félix, who at the time the Mexican authorities considered the only woman in charge of a drug trafficking organization for being the head of the Tijuana cartel.

Known as “The boss” or “The narcomami”He came to that position after nearly all of his male siblings – founders of the cartel – lost their lives or were captured by the authorities.

Another very popular case is that of Sandra Ávila Beltrán or “Queen of the Pacific”, who was accused when she was arrested in 2007 of being a key player in the operations of the Sinaloa cartel.

However, she always denied having influence in the drug trafficking business and some believe that, more for her activities, she gained more fame for actually believing that she inspired the novel “The Queen of the South”, something that its author Arturo Pérez-Reverte denied.


Ávila related her story in the book "The Queen of the Pacific: it


© BBC
Ávila related her story in the book “The Queen of the Pacific: it’s time to tell.”


There is also Leticia Rodríguez Lara, known as “The queen of the Riviera Maya”, who controlled this tourist area and fought to defend its market against the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel of “El Mencho”.

Or Ignacia Jasso, “La Nacha”, one of the pioneering women in drug trafficking in Mexico, dedicating herself to drug trafficking in the state of Chihuahua since 1930.

Victims and romantic relationships

“It is true that, and probably comes from the evolution of gender equality in recent years, there is an empowerment ‘for the worse’ of women who are taking leadership in criminal structures” in small or medium gangs, he tells BBC Mundo Sandra Romandía, Mexican journalist specialized in drug trafficking issues.

However, the expert highlights that in a large number of cases there is a fundamental factor when it comes to understanding the status of these women in organized crime: your family or romantic relationships.

Thus, many wives, mothers or daughters have been singled out for being involved in the cartel leaders’ business or even taking it on after they died or were arrested.

We saw it for example shortly before the arrest of the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, José Antonio Yépez “El Marro”, when his mother, sister and cousin were also arrested as alleged financial operators of the criminal group but were released after denouncing torture.

On many occasions, girlfriends or wives of leaders end up becoming subordinate victims to men by being used, for example, to help them commit crimes.

According to the Insight Crime report, the incarceration of women in Latin America for crimes associated with organized crime, especially drug trafficking, increased in the last decade.

In Mexico, the overall female prison population grew 56% between 2010 and 2015, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography compiled by the report.


The number of women in prison in Mexico grew 56% between 2010 and 2015.


© Getty Images
The number of women in prison in Mexico grew 56% between 2010 and 2015.


“It is documented that not all, but many of the women who are serving time for drug offenses, they do it out of loyalty to their partners or threats from them“, emphasizes Romandía.

According to the expert, many of these situations arise from a macho scheme in which women are afraid to say no, which has more to do with the value structure of their own gender “and not so much as their desire for power” to get into that business.

“And, in many cases, it is nothing more than an inertia to follow the family business because it is what the husband left them, and it is what they know how to do “, adds the co-author of the book “Narco CDMX”.

Femicides and organized crime

According to data from the 911 emergency service in Mexico last August, around 60% of the murders of women until then in 2020 would be related to organized crime.

But that does not mean that all women are involved in it. Sometimes, again, they become a kind of collateral victims of the illicit activities of their partners.


Up to 60% of the murders of women during the first months of 2020 in Mexico were related to organized crime.


© AFP
Up to 60% of the murders of women during the first months of 2020 in Mexico were related to organized crime.


“Some are killed simply because they are related or are a sentimental partner of someone from the opposing group. Some also use the bodies of women to send threatening messages to their rivals,” the researcher tells BBC Mundo Maria Salguero.

Salguero, creator of the Map of Feminicides in Mexico in which for years she has compiled all those registered in the country, says that these deaths linked to organized crime were also in a pandemic, which showed that “not all women they were being killed by their partners in confinement. “

The expert does not deny that there are women directly involved in drug trafficking, but even in these cases, she warns that many times there are causes directly related to their gender that explain their decision.

“There are almost always stories of inequality behind them. Being drug dealers, they can earn about a dollar per package they sell. They are vulnerable women who sometimes have to support the family, they can’t find work … and they get involved in these groups, often also motivated by the environment, “he explains.

“Buchonas”

The reality of many of these women described by experts, therefore, is far from the image of luxury or glamor that some movies or television series about “drug queens” show.

The concept of narcoculture is one that exalts the violence of the drug trafficker and all the money earned with his criminal business, while his women can be linked to the world of organized crime almost like objects that men use to display their power and success.


The name "El Chapo" was even registered as a trademark by one of his daughters to produce tequilas, jewelry and other items and as a way to attract the attention of a certain public.


© AFP
The name “El Chapo” was even registered as a trademark by one of his daughters to produce tequilas, jewelry and other items and as a way to attract the attention of a certain public.


These women, popularly known as “buchonas”, proudly boast of being the partner of a criminal leader and the life of luxury that this allows them to wear jewelry, luxury cars or surgical operations to show off sculptural bodies.

This culture of wasting and showing off money is usually more common among romantic couples of middle or lower-middle management of criminal groups.

But it is striking that Coronel, being the wife of one of the world’s most sought-after drug lords such as “El Chapo”, had such a media and public presence.

In recent months, he promoted businesses to his nearly half a million followers on Instagram. She tried to create a luxury clothing and accessories brand with her husband’s name on it and even appeared on a television show focused on the lives of people or family members linked at some point with posters.

“His attitude and lack of discretion was challenging and, undoubtedly, with that prominence in the media I was crossing red lines in terms of tolerance from the authorities “, he tells BBC Mundo Javier Oliva, analyst and security expert from the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences of the UNAM.


Coronel had a very unusual media presence among couples of great drug lords.


© Getty Images
Coronel had a very unusual media presence among couples of great drug lords.


The fact that women in organized crime are not yet as well known is undoubtedly due to the fact that their presence is still anecdotal compared to men. But Romandía predicts changes.

“There is still no female leadership that is putting the authorities in check. But we will probably start to see it in the next few years, for the important role that some are playing in smaller bands, “he says.

“They have not yet had a very obvious media exposure to create a character or a legend around them … but it will end up happening,” concludes the journalist.

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