Members of the Honduran Special Forces escort Honduran alleged drug-trafficker Herlinda Bobadilla in Tegucigalpa, followion May 15, 2022. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images.
Herlinda Bobadilla, also known as “La Chinda,” the 62-year-old leader of the Montes drug cartel in Honduras, has been arrested, two weeks after the U.S. placed a $5 million bounty on her head. One of her two sons, Tito Montes Bobadilla, was killed in the police operation in the northeastern area of Colón that resulted in her detention over the weekend. Tito was shot after he began firing at the police in a confrontation that ensued when the arrest raid began, according to the authorities. Two other people were arrested alongside his mother.
Shortly after the bloody shootout, video from the Honduran government showed the incongruous image of Bobadilla, wearing a floral shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, led handcuffed into a vehicle by at least five Honduran police officers armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor. The involvement of women operating at the highest levels of the international narcotics business in Latin America—“Las Patronas”—is a growing, but underreported, phenomena.
Bobadilla’s other son, Juan Carlos, remains on the run. Both men also each have a $5 million bounty on their heads from the U.S government.The swift arrest of Bobadilla following the push from the U.S. government suggests that the recently-installed administration of President Xiomara Castro in Honduras could be starting to clean house, dismantling the narco state U.S. prosecutors allege was overseen by her predecessor, former President Juan Orlando Hernández. Hernández was extradited to the U.S. last month to face trial on drug-trafficking charges in New York, following years of accusations from narcos in the U.S. justice system that he and his administration aided and abetted their criminal activities. His brother Antonio “Tony” Hernández was convicted in March 2021 for drug trafficking, and sentenced to life in prison in the U.S.
Honduras is a crucial transit nation for cocaine headed for Mexico and the United States.Bobadilla allegedly oversaw a cocaine trafficking network that operated from her family’s base in Colón, on the northern coast of Honduras. The Montes drug-trafficking organization used its fleet of planes, trucks, and boats to move cocaine in via the coast from its partners in Colombia. The family group then transported the dope west toward the border with Guatemala via land in trucks and cars, where it continued its journey north to Mexico and the United States, according to the indictment against Bobadilla and other members of her group, filed in the Eastern District of Virginia. The speed of Bobadilla’s detention following the announcement of the bounty on her head suggests that it wasn’t hard for the authorities to track her down. “There was a lot of information available on the structure that made it easy to grab them,” said Douglas Farah, head of the security research firm IBI Consultants.Bobadilla and her family have been in the drug trade since at least 2006, according to U.S. prosecutors. Another son of hers — Noe — is already serving a 37-year-sentence in the U.S. for drug trafficking. It’s alleged that when he was extradited in 2019, Herlinda stepped in to take more control over the network.Bobadilla’s arrest is unlikely to slow the drug trade in the region, and could benefit other rival drug-trafficking clans operating there. “I think that they are cleaning house of anything related to Juan Orlando Hernández and his structures to get rid of his money flow and make sure he can’t continue to pay people,” said Farah. “The question to me is who will benefit from this?”