Recent years have witnessed a seismic shift within the realm of narco-trafficking, challenging its stereotypical male-dominated image. Women of power and notoriety have risen to prominence, shattering conventions and inspiring popular Netflix shows such as Queen of the South, which drew inspiration from Sandra Ávila Beltrán, aka Mexico’s most legendary female drug trafficker. These women are often portrayed as young, beautiful, and recklessly daring, actively participating in drug-trafficking operations and flaunting their exploits on social media.
It should then come as no surprise that we’ve recently witnessed a considerable increase of narco influencer content online. The term refers to those content creators who openly state their involvement with the cartel and oftentimes promote the illegal activities that go on within these organisations. They usually will post a variety of content, but will also frequently participate in propaganda for the cartel. Using young attractive women in these videos is a sure way for organisations to glamourise this lifestyle.
One of the most notable figures in this line of work is Joselyn Alejandra Niño, a notorious Mexican assassin associated with the Gulf Cartel. Niño, who was frequently referred to by her alias La Flaca, gained notoriety for her ruthless killings and was remarkably active on social media, unapologetically showcasing her violent accomplishments. However, the young woman’s life took a dark turn when she was reportedly brutally murdered by another young woman, La Gladys of the Zetas, who still remains at large and continues to terrorise the communities of northern Mexico.
What’s even more remarkable is that today, throughout South America, major criminal cartels have established their own female “Flaca” death squads. Las Flacas is a term used to describe slender young women and it has now become synonymous with the cartel. While women within these organisations traditionally played roles in laundering drug money and raising children, a new generation of women with pre-existing connections to drug trafficking has opted for a different path. They willingly embrace the life of assassins, and their deployments are characterised by subtlety, infiltration, and finesse, with brute force taking a back seat.
Just recently, the world witnessed the tragic death of Sabrina Durán Montero, a young woman who initially gained fame as a narco influencer on TikTok and Instagram. Her popularity on the platform was evident, with over 500,000 followers and 11 million likes.
On 23 October, the 24-year-old convicted drug trafficker was ambushed in southwest Santiago, Chile. She was then subjected to seven gunshots, followed by the theft of her car, which was later discovered burned and abandoned. Left bleeding on the road, Durán Montero died of her injuries on the same day.
According to reports, Durán Montero’s murder placed the Chilean government on high alert, particularly in anticipation of her “high-risk” funeral, which took place on 27 October 2023.
The proliferation of narco-funerals in South America has emerged as a pressing issue, raising significant concerns. In September, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, known for his left-wing stance, introduced a groundbreaking legal initiative to Congress aimed at imposing limitations on such ceremonies, as reported by Spanish newspaper El País.
These events often extend over several days, causing streets and cemeteries to be sealed off by local authorities, schools to be shut down, and mourners to engage in alarming activities such as firing guns, igniting fireworks, and setting off explosives. Reports indicate that an astonishing 1,700 such funerals have taken place across Chile in the last five years, underscoring the magnitude of the challenge and the urgency of addressing it.
Earlier this year, in anticipation of a narco-funeral, more than a dozen schools and universities were closed in a town located 120 kilometres from Santiago. Interior Minister Carolina Tohá stressed the importance of not allowing drug traffickers to dictate the school calendar.
In the case of Durán Montero’s funeral, authorities were well aware that her passing would likely draw not only her admirers but also individuals aspiring to be part of the narco world to Peñaflor, a Santiago suburb, as detailed in El País’ report.
Therefore, for the preparation of her funeral, the government had to mobilise special police forces to ensure security and control of the event.
Santiago’s Western Metropolitan Prosecutor, Pablo Sabaj, has indicated that Durán Montero’s murder was premeditated. Initial signs suggest that her assailants had been waiting for her, prompting an investigation into the possibility of a revenge act by criminal rivals. The 24-year-old had been released from prison in May and was completing the remainder of her sentence under police surveillance at her home.
As we witness another narco-funeral, the government’s ability to mitigate the cartel’s power during these events remains uncertain. The young victim’s final social media posts were all dedicated to her girlfriend, Antonella Marchant, a member of the influential Marchant drug-trafficking clan, whom she reportedly met behind bars.