Officials believe a woman could be the next head of the Gulf Cartel

Authorities in Mexico believe that the next leader of the Gulf Cartel could be a woman, an unusual development in the macho world of drug trafficking, but which might unite the badly splintered group.

According to security officials consulted by Mexico’s La Jornada, in the wake of the September 12 capture of Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias “El Coss,” a woman may be next in line to succeed as head of the Gulf Cartel. Sources in the military and the Attorney General’s Office told the newspaper that El Coss will likely be followed by one of the four siblings of jailed Gulf kingpin Osiel Cardenas Guillen, among them two women. While law enforcement officials have identified one of these Liliana Cardenas Guillen, the identity of the other sister is unknown.

Military officials told La Jornada that if one of the Cardenas Guillen sisters assumed leadership of the Gulf Cartel, it could serve to unite the group at a time when it is divided. After Osiel’s brother Antonio, known as “Tony Tormenta,” was killed in a firefight with police in November 2010, the Gulf Cartel split into two factions: the Rojos, loyal to the Cardenas Guillen family, and the Metros, who had been led by El Coss until his recent arrest.

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While it would be unusual for a Cardenas Guillen sister to directly manage the drug cartel, it would not be entirely unprecedented. The Tijuana Cartel has been headed for some time by Enedina Arellano Felix, who took over the group after her brothers were killed or arrested.  She now manages it with her son, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias "El Ingeniero." Another famous “drug queen,” Sandra Avila Beltran, is currently being tried in the United States on charges that she served as a key link between the Sinaloa Cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle Cartel.

However, if the Gulf Cartel’s last chance to unite and attempt to regain some of the territory it has lost to rivals in recent years lies with a female successor, there may be little chance of recovery. As InSight Crime has reported, powerful women in Mexico’s criminal underworld generally have difficulty commanding on their own, and have been forced to rely on men in their organizations to legitimize their positions.