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February 25, 2021

The Arrest of Emma Coronel

On Monday, Emma Coronel Aispuro was arrested at Dulles airport and charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics, a charge stemming from her relationship with her husband, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, and his sons. Emma’s arrest made international headlines but unlike Joaquín who was presumed one of the world’s most infamous drug traffickers, she was mostly reduced to being named as ‘El Chapo’s’ wife.

However, women’s involvement in organized crime is not new or exceptional. Mexico Violence Resource Project co-founder Michael Lettieri spoke with The World about the varying roles women have performed within Mexican drug trafficking for over a century and how successful enterprises, even if illegal, promote female participation.

Emma Coronel’s treatment by the press and law enforcement also highlighted what project co-founder Cecilia Farfán has called the paradox of invisibility: By thinking of women as outsiders, they become valuable members of sophisticated criminal groups. Law enforcement will not suspect them with the same attention and media will perpetuate the stereotype of the exception rather than the norm. You can read a summary of the argument here or the book chapter “Women’s Involvement in Organised Crime and Drug Trafficking: A Comparative Analysis of the Sinaloa and Yamaguchi-gumi Organisations” from the book The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle both available online and free.

The portrayal of Coronel has also tended to obscure another aspect of female involvement in organized crime: the multiple forms of violence they experience. While the glitz and glamour of her life—from fashion to VH1 reality shows—suggested a haughty distance from the murderous reality of her husband’s business, the truth is that her marriage to him at age 18 suggests that the picture may be more nuanced. Certainly in the case of Lucero Sánchez, Chapo’s reported mistress and a witness against him during his trial, their relationship contained a substantial degree of coercion. Recognizing both women’s agency and their victimization/survival as participants in drug trafficking requires moving away from sensationalism.

In case you missed it: It is a difficult moment for the U.S.-Mexico relationship. A tangle of tensions, on issues ranging from energy policy to the operations of DEA agents within Mexico, threaten to disrupt an always tense partnership. Simultaneously, two administrations with mandates for change have the opportunity to reimagine bilateral interactions. To examine these issues, the Mexico Violence Resource Project convened a panel of experts to discuss how security cooperation should evolve. Four conclusions emerged from the discussion:

  • First, nearly everyone acknowledges that this is a uniquely challenging moment for bilateral relations, but also an opportunity for change.

  • Second, drug trafficking and transnational organized criminal activities are issues that must be addressed, but not necessarily with a militarized approach. Cooperating to combat illicit financial flows and acknowledging the diversity of crime and harm were two major suggestions.

  • Third, U.S. engagement on security cooperation is almost certain to slow, given the chilliness of the relationship. But how much the U.S. should pressure Mexico to alter its own policies is a question, and it is unclear whether—given this climate—cooperation to build effective institutions is even possible.

  • Lastly, the most promising area for security cooperation is civilian not military. Supporting civil society efforts to address violence, reduce corruption, and create trust offers a strong return on investment. These partnerships should not be controversial.

Read the essays here.

What We're Learning From:

  • The Voces Silenciadas podcast. The pilot episode, telling the story of Ricardo Monlui Cabrera, a journalist murdered in Veracruz in 2017, beautifully and brilliantly interweaves the tragedy of his individual case with a sharp examination of the structural factors that put journalists at risk. The first episode of season one releases next week.


  • How the state has fabricated guilt. Based on first hand evidence, this article published by Animal Político and penned by civil society organization Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos exposes how  law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system have fabricated guilty parties. These individuals are often tortured, experience secondary victimization, and long-term psychological effects under the guise of providing citizen security.

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