Gender and Critical Drug Studies: A Woman Formed the First Cartel?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Elaine Carey, professor of history and Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Purdue University Northwest. In it, she explores more about her article on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, a contemporary female leader of a Mexican drug trafficking organization, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

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Elaine Carey

To analyze contemporary female leaders of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, I focused on Delia Patricia Buendía Gutierrez, also known as “Ma Baker,” because she represents a historical continuity of the women in the drug trade.  More significantly, however, her organization represents how the history of drugs responds to various contingent and changing factors and events.

Buendía formed a powerful familial-based drug trafficking organization (DTO) that grew the internal cocaine trade in Mexico. She and her daughters Marcela Gabriela, Nadia Isabel, and Norma Patricia, along with extended family and sons-in-laws, built a “narcomenudeo” network in the working class suburb of Ciudad Neza.  There, the Buendía became instrumental to other DTOs by responding to changing demand patterns in the US that shifted from cocaine to heroin. This shift was, in part, due to the over prescription of opioids by medical doctors which triggered a wide spread heroin epidemic.

Screenshot 2018-09-10 at 1.02.13 PMWith the market shift, the Buendía DTO trafficked and distributed cocaine that was never destined for the United States.  The group established a network of tienditas (little shops) and ventanitas (small windows) all over Ciudad Neza and other communities in and around Mexico City.  Their purpose was to absorb excess cocaine and foster a new market in Mexico after the demand in the United States shifted from cocaine to heroin in the early 2000s. The little shops and windows sold small dosages of cocaine and crack at an affordable price for working-class Mexicans.  As I discussed in Women Drug Traffickers: Mules, Bosses, and Organized Crime, women in the drug trade have long responded to market demands and shifts.  In Women Drug Traffickers, I analyzed DTOs of two prominent women in Mexico:  Ignacia Jasso la viuda de González, also known as La Nacha, and María Dolores Estévez Zuleta, also known as Lola la Chata. These two women started in the drug trade in the 1920s, and they were architects of early transnational DTOs. While Mexican journalist Francisco Cruz argued that La Nacha built the first cartel, the stories of Mexican women leaders of DTOs are far more complex because they have always responded to market demands and shifts in policing.  

Historically, Mexican politicians, policing agents, and health secretaries have long argued that the US demand for drugs has triggered drug wars that have resulted in the deaths and murders of tens of thousands of Mexicans.  The shifts in demand in the United States have also resulted in market shifts in which Mexicans became the victims of cocaine dumping, triggering drug epidemics that had never existed before in the country.

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