The Role of Women in Guatemalan Extortion Gangs

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A report from Prensa Libre highlights the key role that women play in extortion gangs in Guatemala, carrying out recruitment and gathering intelligence on victims, with the advantage that they are less likely to attract the attention of the police.

According to the newspaper, of the 532 people arrested so far this year by the Special Anti-Extortion Task Force, 150 were women. 

Women rarely hold leadership positions in the groups, Prensa Libre reported, but they do take an active role, recruiting members and gathering intelligence on extortion targets. Women draw less attention than men, making it easier to carry out these operations, Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla told the paper.

Lopez added that women are often drawn into the extortion gangs because of family or romantic ties with male members. Such was the case in the recent arrest of seven Guatemalans who had been extorting nearly $320 per week from various bus companies over a three-year period. Four of those arrested were female family members, including the 51-year-old mother and 23-year-old sister of an Barrio 18 gang member who directed the extortion operation from prison.

InSight Crime Analysis

Women often work as underlings in Latin America’s drug trafficking organizations, as with the extortionists in Guatemala, but there are several cases where women have gained powerful positions within drug cartels. One of the most famous is Colombian Griselda Blanco, who was one of the biggest traffickers of cocaine into the US during the 1970s and 80s, and an alleged mentor to Pablo Escobar.

Mexico‘s National Women’s Institute and military have both stated in recent years that women are taking on more important roles in organized crime in the country. According to recent reports, a woman may be in line to become head of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel following the arrest of its leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias “El Coss,” in September.

The authorities dismantled a Zetas training camp in June last year and found that half of the trainees were females.

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