After the success of her Latin American breakthrough, Pies Descalzos (1995), Shakira turned her attention to the US Latin market with her next release, Donde Estan Los Ladrones? She met with Emilio Estefan, a renowned producer (and husband to Latin-pop superstar Gloria Estefan), in the hopes of expanding her fanbase. "He had to come into my life because if he hadn't, I would have gone crazy," she explained in a 1998 interview. "He gave me all of the security and the confidence I needed to undertake this project, and he made available the key people who I worked with, the collaborators on this album."
Estefan knew the Colombian-born singer had something special from the moment he met her. "To me, she was this shy girl, but with a lot of energy, who wanted to do things. And that's what I loved - I love people who love music, so the connection was really strong," he told the Latin publication Remezcla. "I remember she came in to see the studio, and she said, 'How about you produce the whole album?'"
The album title, which translates to Where Are The Thieves, was inspired by the theft of Shakira's luggage, including a briefcase full of lyrics, from the El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá. The singer-songwriter had just finished up her Tour Pies Descalzos and was looking forward to her next album when her lyrics went missing. "The worst part about the whole thing was that I couldn't remember them because of the mental block that can be caused by such a traumatic experience as the robbery of such a personal item," she explained in the biography Shakira: Full Of Grace by Ximena Diego.
Her preoccupation with her stolen material influenced the title track, a guitar-driven critique of political corruption in her homeland. "I came to the conclusion that there are all types of thieves," she said. "A thief is not just a person who takes a physical object that doesn't belong to him or her. There are thieves who steal feelings, space, time, dreams, rights."
When corruption infiltrates society, everyone's hands get a little dirty – including Shakira's. The album cover shows the singer gazing into the camera with dirt-covered hands, as if she's been caught in the act. "From that point of view, we all have stolen at one time or another, myself included," she explained. "The dirty hands represent the shared guilt. No one is completely clean, in the end we are all accomplices."
The album earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance at the 1999 ceremony.