The U.S. government just placed a $5 million bounty on the leader of another Latin American drug cartel. But this time, she’s a 62-year-old mom, Herlinda Bobadilla, also known as “La Chinda,” who now runs one of Honduras’ most powerful crime families.
Bobadilla allegedly runs a sophisticated cocaine transportation network replete with planes, boats, and trucks that move huge loads of dope from Colombia through Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and, ultimately, into the United States.
Along with her sons Tito and Juan Carlos Montes Bobadilla, she controls the Montes drug trafficking organization, according to the indictment filed against all three of them in 2015 in the Eastern District of Virginia.
She is the latest in a number of high-powered “Patronas” (the Spanish term often used to describe female drug bosses) to be targeted by the U.S. government, and further evidence of the importance of women in the contemporary drug trade—a dynamic that’s been underestimated in past decades.
The bounty comes just days after the U.S. government extradited the former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, on drug charges.
The U.S. State Department push to arrest Bobadilla and her sons could be interpreted by the new government of President Xiomara Castro in Honduras as further pressure to dismantle the narco-state that was allegedly overseen by her predecessor.
“President Castro is cleaning out everything Juan Orlando Hernandez had in terms of narco infrastructure and is fair game for the U.S. right now. The pillars of his financial structure have to be incapacitated,” said Douglas Farah, head of the security research firm IBI Consultants.
Bobadilla and her two sons were based in Colón, a zone on the hot, northeastern coast of Honduras. Their location on the coast lent itself to the receipt of maritime deliveries of cocaine from their Colombian partners to the south, according to court documents.
The matriarch apparently grew in power following the conviction of Noe, her third son, who was extradited in 2019 and is now serving 37 years in a U.S. prison for drug-trafficking. Sources in Honduras who spoke to VICE World News said that the Montes organization was also supported by former President Hernández during his time in power.
Hernández was the president of Honduras—a major cocaine transit nation—from January 2014 until January 2022. He was arrested in his home in Tegucigalpa this year, mere weeks after leaving office and following years of speculation and testimony in courts in the United States that he aided and abetted the international cocaine trade, taking bribes and helping out powerful drug bosses, including Mexico’s Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Hernández, whose brother “Tony” is serving life in the U.S. after he was convicted for trafficking cocaine, was flown out of his home country for perhaps the last time on April 21 to face “violent drug-trafficking conspiracy” charges in a court in New York. Those charges could see him handed a life sentence if he’s convicted.
Bobadilla and her sons Tito and Juan Carlos worked with another Honduran drug-trafficking organization to the east—the Valle cartel—which was also in part controlled by a prominent narco matriarch, Digna Valle.
Following the arrest of Valle on a trip to Miami in 2014, her brothers, son, and daughter were all taken into custody by either the Honduran or the U.S authorities, bringing to a close the Valle drug-trafficking empire, which from the Honduran department of Copan oversaw the transportation of tons of cocaine into neighboring Guatemala on its way to Mexico and the United States.
The Valles—like Bobadilla’s organization—allegedly also relied on the backing of former President Hernández for their drug trafficking activities, and contributed part of a $1 million donation, made with El Chapo, to Hernández’s presidential campaign in return for his protection.
The charges against Hernández suggest he not only took bribes from drug bosses to look the other way but also helped protect them from anti-narcotics operations carried out by his own government and U.S. DEA agents working alongside them.
“The real question,” said Farah on the bounty and potential arrest of Bobadilla and her sons, “is whether this will be just a change in management of criminal structures or an actual effort to really take on criminal organizations in a new and serious way.