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Drug transporters. Money launderers. Killers. Street drug vendors. Weapons traffickers. Kidnappers. Extortionists.
VICE journalist Deborah Bonello reports from the trenches in this first-ever in-depth exploration of the hidden power women wield in Latin American drug cartels
You’ve heard of Pablo Escobar, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and Rafael Caro Quintero. Their names conjure ghoulish images of bloody streets, white powder, bundles of weed, and a particular flavor of machismo unique to ruthless druglords. But what of the drugladies, las narcas? For the first time, investigative reporter Deborah Bonello takes you behind the curtain to introduce the women at the helm of organized crime south of the US-Mexico border. These women are the powerhouses behind violent cartels; masterminds of extortion rackets; right-hand ladies to El Chapo’s cocaine flow to the US; and matriarchs of major drug trafficking families. In these pages, you will meet women like Doña Digna, the leader of the Valle cartel, and Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia, one of “El Chapo” Guzman’s closest confidants.
Narcas, for the first time, gives voice to the women of notorious drug-trafficking monarchies, meticulously documenting the variety of roles they play. Bonello chronicles the complexity of their actions and their desires, the grey chasm between victims and victimizers, co-option and agency, and right and wrong. She examines why women’s experiences are under-reported, emphasizing the importance of understanding women as fully capable beings who are often as ambitious, innovative, ruthless, and violent as their male counterparts.
With careful detail, comprehensive research, and groundbreaking storytelling, Narcas paints a vivid picture of the women behind some of the most notorious drug cartels. You will not see Sebastiana Cottón or Marixa Lemus in the stereotypical portrayals of beautiful narco wives or girlfriends, or in the faces of trafficking survivors or drug mules. Rather, you’ll encounter—at staggering rates—the female cartel killers, money launderers, logistical heads, and transporters of Latin America’s infamous crime syndicates.
About the Author
Deborah Bonello is a journalist, a writer, an editor, and an investigator based in Mexico City. Born in Malta and brought up in the UK, she moved to Latin America to work as a foreign correspondent in 2005. Deborah is senior editor for Latin America at VICE World News and has nearly 2 decades of experience covering organized crime and criminal syndicates, particularly the drug trade, as well as the violence and culture connected to the crime world. She’s contributed to several publications, including The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the BBC, and The Telegraph.
“Readers fascinated by organized crime and the inner workings of investigative journalism will want to check it out.”
“Bonello presents a complex report on women’s roles in a world of extreme machismo and an eye-opening challenge to the perception of women involved in the complicated and brutal world of cartels.”
“Throughout this intriguing text, the author busts the myth that these narcas are mere victims.”
“The investigative reporting in this book is impressive. . . . Ms Bonello’s work enriches the reader’s understanding of drug gangs. This book is a valuable introduction to a subject that deserves more research.”
“Her narrative shines, with fascinating characters and detail from the towns and villages where her reporting has taken her. Reflections on her process add compelling tensions.”
—New Statesman (UK)
“Deborah Bonello bypasses the typical macho narco narrative into something far more complex and fascinating: a look at the powerful patronas of organized crime. Finally, we get the other half of the story in this deeply reported and masterfully written book about women who built and ran their own drug empires, no matter the cost.”
—Melissa del Bosque, author of Bloodlines: The True Story of a Drug Cartel, the FBI, and the Battle for a Horse-Racing Dynasty
“Deborah Bonello, a renowned journalist and author, brilliantly captures the ascension of women into leadership roles within the dark, violent world of powerful drug cartels.”
—Mike Vigil, former DEA chief of international operations
“This incredibly well-researched and well-written book . . . debunks the long-standing view that narcas are simply eye candy or accessories for their men and shows that smart, aggressive women can be leaders in their own right. An excellent piece of investigative journalism!”
—Bonnie S. Klapper, criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor
“From El Chapo’s young wife to the women and girls enduring misogyny in Central America’s gangs, this is a fascinating narrative, a behind-the-scenes look at an aspect of the drug business most people don’t know about.”
—Tracy Wilkinson, senior foreign policy writer and former Latin America bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times
“An important and nuanced corrective to decades of blinkered reporting on the drug trade—and essential reading for anyone who really wants to understand the culture within it.”
—Evan Ratliff, cofounder of the Longform podcast and author of The Mastermind: A True Story of Murder, Empire, and a New Kind of Crime Lord