Raquel de Oliveira rose to the top of a bloodthirsty cocaine cartel in one of Brazil’s toughest neighborhoods. It all began when she was just a little girl, when her grandmother sold her to a brothel. Luckily for Raquel, she worked there but was spared the life of a prostitute because the head of the brothel had just had a spiritual vision that prevented him from selling a girl so young.
When Raquel was 15 she committed her first murder. She was supposed to be picking up drugs from the man, who instead wanted to rape her.
“He thought giving me marijuana would get me high and then he could do things with me,” she explains in a book she’s written about her life. “But it didn’t. So it was him or me.” She stabbed him multiple times on the sofa, where he died. And she has no regrets.
By age 25 she was involved with Ednaldo de Souza, or ‘Naldo’, who worked beneath one man who ran the entire neighborhood. Raquel was already the mother of two by the time she began dating Naldo, the love of her life. She even regrets not dying right beside him when, three years later, he was killed in a gun battle with police.
Because she survived Naldo, Raquel decided to take up where he left off.
“Naldo left 300g of marijuana, I just had to receive it,” she explains. “Then I set up a place to package it with some people who offered to help. At first, I went to the street to sell it myself. I sorted a place free from police, because the [neighborhood] was full of officers. It exploded. It was incredible. And I had these rules: no one could smoke nearby, no one could work high, no more than two people at a time and no way were any children allowed. I had an enormous list of things you couldn’t do.”
That’s how Raquel became the boss with 19 traffickers beneath her. But her addiction to cocaine would begin her unraveling. She was often high just to get the exhausting work done.
“I spent all day and all night creating strategies to not spin or lose anything,” she says. “Wrapping, selling, wrapping, selling: that was it. Drug trafficking enslaves a person’s life. It’s like working in a hotel or hairdressers. Drug trafficking is made of death, of blood. Traffickers were seen as heroes of the community, those who resolved everything. From the pipe a neighbour put on his wall to cases of death, rape, violence with a minor. There was a lot of this. So, I had to keep standards.”
And she did, by protecting her neighborhood. She even ordered that a group of young men who were stealing from people in the favela be buried alive. She spared only one, whose aunt came to appeal his case.
But now, all that remains of Raquel’s career as a cartel boss is her memories of addiction. She spent everything she had on her drug habit. She sold her four properties and her jewellery, and even carried out a robbery to support her cocaine habit.
“Everything I earned, I lost,” she remembers. “My son’s father taught me to drink and so I also became an alcoholic, and I taught him to use cocaine. We created a couple of monsters. I snorted through everything, and it was hell. And today, I just have enough to live off.”
Today she’s clean and sober. She’s also writing the second book of her trilogy, Depois de Tudo (After All). The second will pick up where she left off in A Número Um, the first book.