Leadership Role of Women Often Overlooked in Mexico’s Organized Crime Landscape

Latin America

A woman from Mexico’s drug trade heartland has been convicted in the United States for leading a sophisticated international trafficking network, highlighting the often overlooked leadership roles that women can play within the ranks of the country’s organized crime groups.

Authorities in the United States convicted Culiacán native Luz Irene Fajardo Campos, alias “La Comadre,” “La Madrina” or “La Doña,” of drug conspiracy charges for heading a group that trafficked large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine into the country for nearly two decades starting in at least 1997, the US Justice Department announced in a December 19 press release.

Along with her adult children, Campos ran a “sophisticated, multinational drug trafficking organization aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel,” according to Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski. She sourced cocaine directly from Colombia, negotiated the purchase of jets and employed pilots to fly the drugs to Central America and Mexico, according to authorities. She also had associates in Ecuador and Panama, according to the criminal indictment against her.

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In addition, Campos coordinated the importation of precursor chemicals, presumably into one of Mexico’s main ports, which she then processed into methamphetamine using a clandestine drug lab located in the deserts surrounding the capital city of Hermosillo in northwest Sonora state along the US-Mexico border. Her distribution networks in the United States extended from just over the border in Arizona to further east in Mississippi, among others.

After eluding capture for years, Colombian migration authorities arrested Campos in April 2017 at the international airport in the capital Bogotá as she attempted to board a flight to Mexico City, according to a government press release at the time. US authorities first charged her in May 2015, according to the criminal indictment.

InSight Crime Analysis

Campos is not the first Mexican woman to lead a sophisticated transnational drug trafficking network, nor is she the first to carve out a role for herself within Mexico’s organized crime landscape, and she surely won’t be the last.

Indeed, after the arrest of Tijuana Cartel leader Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero,” in June of 2014, his mother Enedina Arellano Félix, alias “La Narcomami,” took over command of the cartel’s operations. Also known as the Arellano Félix Organization, which dominated the Mexican drug trade in Tijuana along the border with California for decades, Enedina was the sister of the Arellano Felix brothers who originally headed the group.

Sandra Ávila Beltrán, better known as Mexico’s “Queen of the Pacific,” was also one of the country’s most infamous female criminals tied to drug trafficking. She kicked off her criminal career by linking the Sinaloa Cartel with Colombia’s Norte del Valle Cartel. Her uncle, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, alias “the Godfather,” was one of Mexico’s first major drug traffickers.

Beltrán was eventually hit with cocaine trafficking charges — of which she was later acquitted — for allegedly conspiring with her partner and Colombian trafficker Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, alias “El Tigre.” After being arrested in Mexico in 2007 and later extradited to the United States in 2012, she was released from jail before being rearrested in 2013 to face money laundering charges back home in Mexico.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Gender and Organized Crime

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, the author of the 2017 book “Los Zetas Inc.” and an expert on organized crime in Mexico, told InSight Crime that seeing a conviction like Campos’ isn’t surprising and should be looked at in the context of broader trends regarding the role of women in society.

“Women have been gaining space in different economic activities, both illicit and licit, sometimes surpassing men because of their capacity for organization, leadership and understanding of businesses,” she said.

However, Mexico’s organized crime groups are still largely dominated by men. That said, Correa-Cabrera explained that analysis of criminal organizations has too often overlooked women, failing to account for the many roles that they play in such groups, as well as the impact that criminal activity has on them.

“What we have seen [over the years] is the capacity for women to lead transnational operations at a very big level,” she said. “I’m sure this isn’t an isolated case, and I don’t doubt that there are more women acting in that capacity that just haven’t been arrested yet.”

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