Mexican federal police have captured Guadalupe Fernández Valencia, known as "La Patrona" or The Boss, who is wanted in the United States for trafficking drugs and laundering money on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.
A spokesman for the National Security Commission told VICE News that the arrest took place on Tuesday in Culiacán, the state capital of Sinaloa, but declined to provide further details.
Footage of what purports to be the aftermath of the arrest published in local media, shows officers calmly escorting an unhandcuffed woman into a waiting police car. With dyed blonde hair and a leopard print shirt, she is sporting a look common among women her age in Culiacán.
An earlier statement from the Commission said the 55-year-old was "responsible for importing large quantities of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana from Mexico into the United States."
The Commission noted that Fernández was previously arrested in 1998 and completed a prison sentence in California before being released and returning to the drug trade. It said she would be held in a federal prison until Mexico's judicial authorities determine how to proceed with her case.
Fernández was indicted for drug trafficking and money laundering by the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois in January 2015. Two months later the US government formally requested that Mexico arrest her with a view to extradition.
The US Treasury Department designated Fernández as a "Foreign Narcotics Kingpin" in November.
"Guadalupe Fernández Valencia, who is originally from Michoacán, moves both drugs and money for the Sinaloa Cartel," noted the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. "She is also the sister of Sinaloa Cartel drug trafficker and Chapo Guzmán associate, Manuel Fernández Valencia, who is currently in US federal custody."
The Department also described her as a lieutenant for Alfredo Guzmán, a son of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.
Hollywood actor Sean Penn wrote in Rolling Stone that Alfredo Guzmán drove him to meet El Chapo in October while the drug lord was still free, after his spectacular escape from prison in July and before his recapture last month.
José Carlos Cisneros, an academic from Culiacán who has investigated the role of women in the Mexican drug trade, confirmed that Fernández was one of the highest ranked women in the Sinaloa Cartel.
Cisneros said some are almost as powerful as El Chapo, but they tend to focus more on money laundering and keep a much lower profile.
"Many say they're not interested in being respected in the same way as El Chapo," he said. "Being in El Chapo's position means being killed or arrested sooner or later."
As well as Fernández, there are several other examples of women who have garnered reputations as leading traffickers.
Sandra Ávila Beltrán, known as La Reina del Pacifico, or the Queen of the Pacific, is believed to have served as the Sinaloa Cartel's go-between with Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel. She is currently serving a five-year sentence for money laundering. She is also famed for reportedly receiving Botox injection treatment while behind bars.
Enedina Arellano Felix, who is thought to have taken control of the Tijuana Cartel after her brothers were all killed or captured, is another prominent example.
Even so, Javier Valdez, author of the book Miss Narco, said it remains difficult for women to be taken seriously within the industry unless they have strong family connections.
Valdez noted that it has become increasingly common for women to traffic arms and drugs, launder money, and commit or order assassinations.
"But what hasn't changed," he said, "is that they're still objects. They get turned in to the police or the army, or they get killed. They're disposable."
The latest casualty, albeit via indirect association only, may be Mexican telenovela actress Kate del Castillo, thanks to her communications with Chapo over a project to make a movie about his life, as well as her role brokering the drug lord's meeting with Sean Penn.
The mutual fascination between the actress and the drug lord — laid bare in a series of leaked messages — apparently stemmed from her role as the lead in the fictional series about a ruthless drug boss called La Reina Del Sur, or The Queen of the South.
Now, however, Del Castillo is in a storm of controversy facing a potential court case.
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