Daniel "El Loco" Barrera

Recordings of Colombian drug trafficker Daniel Barrera, alias "El Loco," speaking to Colombian and Venezuelan authorities shed light on the inner workings of his criminal organization, as well as his brash personality. 

The audio, published by Semana magazine, features Barrera speaking on a range of subjects, justifying his reasons for killing off several of his enemies, and describing his alliance with other Colombian drug trafficking organizations. 

[Listen to audio clips on Semana.com of Barrera talking about cocaine exports and the Urabeños].

Barrera, a drug kingpin who has been compared to Pablo Escobar, was arrested in Venezuela in September then deported to Colombia. He was involved in the drug trafficking industry for more than 20 years, working with neo-paramilitary groups like the now-disbanded ERPAC, and rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). He is now in a Colombian prison awaiting extradition to the US

Semana reports that the audio recordings are taken from hours of interrogation that Barrera underwent from Venezuelan and Colombian officials. The magazine notes that despite the many topics addressed by Barrera, one particularly controversial issue is left out of the recordings made available: alleged collaboration between Barrera's organization, the security forces, and other government authorities. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Some of Barrera's comments verge on being flippant. At one point, he states, "It's more difficult to go grocery shopping than to move 1,000 kilos [of cocaine]." On his expectations from the US, he says, "I'm going to collaborate with justice system and I'm going to hand over assets. But I can't hand over everything. I need something for my retirement."

Barrera was reportedly in talks with US authorities about turning himself in during the months leading up to his surrender, but the negotiations fell through. The tone of some of his remarks in the audio recordings paint a picture of a man who was never serious about giving himself up. 

Some of Barrera's other comments hint at a man who saw himself as abiding by his own moral code, in contrast to other Colombian crime lords. He says he ordered the April assassination of his former head hitman Jairo Saldarriaga, alias "Mojarro," because Saldarriaga planned to target Barrera's family in Argentina. "I couldn't permit that situation and so I ordered the job." Barrera complains that Mojarro was also acting "disrespectful. He was asking for money in my name, something I've always hated and detested." 

Barrera adds that he ordered the death of Yesid Nieto, a notorious emeralds trader, in 2007, because Nieto wanted Barrera to hand over a piece of land and was threatening to kill Barrera. "I couldn't let them kill me over nothing," Barrera states. "You only get one life."

Barrera then contrasts his own leadership style to other Colombian criminals, whom he depicts as morally bankrupt. The leader of the Urabeños criminal organization, Dario Antonio Usuga, alias "Otoniel," is "an animal," in Barrera's words.

"That guy doesn't deserve a chance. He's killed children over nothing... the guy's an animal. He's very dangerous... They're sickos who live to take things away from people and kill them." Barrera also criticizes another known Colombian warlord of the Eastern Plains, the now deceased Miguel Arroyave, as "crazy" for using torture on his enemies, including using a chainsaw. 

One of the ironies of such remarks is that Barrera is believed to own over a thousand hectares of land in Colombia's Eastern Plains, which belong to victims of the Colombian conflict. He also originally earned his nickname, "Madman," for the ruthless killings he ordered in revenge for the death of his brother, Omar, in the late 1980s. Barrera's critique of other Colombian crime lords for being deranged "animals" hints at his own skewed perception of himself as a business man who only takes violent action for "legitimate" reasons, such as when his family is threatened. 

While describing his cocaine trafficking operations, Barrera presents it as a straightforward business. In collaboration with several other drug traffickers, each one would buy 500 kilos of cocaine and deploy shipments of 1,000 to 2,000 kilos from areas like Colombia's Pacific coast. Barrera only bought his loads from the FARC, he states. 

When Barrera was arrested, the government described him as Colombia's "last capo." As indicated by the audio recordings made available by Semana, Barrera apparently did see himself as somewhat exceptional, following his own moral code in a risky business, in contrast to those around him. While the Urabeños are currently the organization best poised to become the dominant power in the Colombian drug trade, Barrera would seem to dispute that and he  may even consider himself irreplaceable. What's clear from his brash assertions is that he certainly was one of a kind. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...