A powerful Colombian drug lord was caught in Venezuela on Tuesday, just a few weeks before presidential elections take place in that country.
Daniel Barrera, nicknamed El Loco, or" the crazy one," was captured by Venezuelan officials in the town of San Cristobal, less than 50 miles away from the Colombian border, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said.
Colombian officials celebrated the arrest on Tuesday night and Santos addressed his countrymen through local TV outlets like the NTN24 news channel.
"El Loco Barrera was perhaps the most wanted drug lord of recent times," Santos said. "He has been harming Colombia and the world for 20 years and has dedicated himself to all kinds of crimes, to pervert alliances with paramilitary groups and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and of course to drug trafficking."
The Colombian President thanked the government of Venezuela for helping to locate Barrera, showing once again that relations between the two neighboring countries have somewhat improved. But Santos also explained that the CIA and Britain's MI6 helped to track down the fugitive drug trafficker.
Criminal success story
According to the organized crime website Insight, Barrera's drug trafficking career began in the 1980s in his home province of Guaviare. With his brother Omar, he started providing chemical products to the cocaine labs of that region. After his brother's assassination, Barrera brutally took revenge on his enemies and earned himself the nickname "El Loco." In and out of prison, he then started to operate as a middleman and trafficker of semi-processed cocaine selling the stuff to the powerful Norte del Valle cartel.
Insight reports that in the late 90s El Loco got in touch with different kinds of producers and drug smugglers, including leaders of the FARC guerrillas. In 2004 he joined forces with Paramilitary commanders Manuel de Jesús Piraban, aka "Jorge Pirata", and Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, aka "Cuchillo." In September 2004, El Loco's and his new allies planned the assassination of the leader of the Centauros paramilitary group. Along with Guerrero, El Loco gained control of drug routes over Colombia's eastern plains, which opened access to Venezuela, the Caribbean and Brazil's Amazon region.
With an uncanny ability to build up alliances and use political forces for business purposes, Barrera became part of drug trafficking's unofficial board of directors. His operations in Colombia's capital city of Bogota, Central America, Brazil, Europe and the West Coast Africa, made him one of the two major drug traffickers in Colombia, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. El Loco's high profile made him a target for law enforcement agencies and rival drug lords.
In recent operations, Colombian forces backed up by U.S. intelligence services managed to capture several of Barrera's closest allies and turn them into informants. The information they provided helped determine that he had found refuge in Venezuela, where he was spending most of his time in order to avoid prosecution and extradition.