Women Gain Power in Mexico's Drug Cartels

By McCarton Ackerman 05/29/12

Women take senior cartel positions as male members are killed off, changing the war, a new book argues.

Lopez Garza.jpg
Irasema Lopez Garza, alleged partner of the
leader of the Zetas cartel
Photo via

Women are apparently taking on a bigger role in Mexico's drug war than ever before. In a new book, Female Bosses of Narco-Traffic, Arturo Santamaria—a researcher at the Autonomous University of the State of Sinaloa—writes that the huge death toll among male gang members in recent years has seen women increasingly step into senior positions in Mexico's drug world, and that some of the most dangerous operators in the country are now women. "Widows, daughters, lovers and girlfriends of men in the drug trade have slid into the business in increasingly powerful ways," says Santamaria. “They started transporting drugs, laundering money and engaging in so-called narco-diplomacy. Later, they started getting involved in operations.” Santamaria argues that the increased presence of women has strengthened the cartels, promoting a tendency to use violence more sparingly, but with greater effect (although despite the increased female involvement, the Mexan drug war is still very much a male-dominated affair overall). Many believe that more female front-line involvement spells bad news for attempts to end the drug war anytime soon. "It used to be that mothers told their sons and husbands to leave the business or not get involved in it," says politician Manuel Clouthier. "But if the mother is the one who is already involved, she's not likely to be the one to tell a son: Don't get involved!"

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.