Deborah Bonello Elaine Carey Mariola Marzouk Tristram Hicks

Narcas, The Secret Rise of Women in Latin America's Cartels + The War on Dirty Money

A Talk by Deborah Bonello , Tristram Hicks , Mariola Marzouk and Elaine Carey

About this Talk

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.

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Billions of dollars are wasted each year trying to prevent ‘dirty money’ entering a financial system that is already awash with it. The authors challenge the global approach, arguing that complacency, self-interest and misunderstanding have now created long-standing absurdities. International and government policy makers inadvertently facilitate tax evasion, corruption, environmental and organised crime by separating crime from its root cause. The handful of crime fighters that do exist are starved of resources while an army of compliance box tickers are prevented from truly helping. The authors provide a toolbox of evidence-based solutions to help the frontline tackle financial crime.

18 October 2023, 01:00 PM

01:00 PM - 02:15 PM

About The Speakers

Deborah Bonello

Deborah Bonello

Freelance video journalist based in Mexico City.


Tristram Hicks

Tristram Hicks

Independant Consultant


Mariola Marzouk

Mariola Marzouk

University of Portsmouth


Elaine Carey

Elaine Carey

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oakland University in Michigan and historian of Mexico, crime, social movements, and gender.