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Colombia's 'Madman': Security Boss or Top Drug Lord?

Daniel "El Loco" Barrera Daniel "El Loco" Barrera

US indictments describe Daniel "El Loco" Barrera as a head of security, while Colombian authorities described him as the last of Colombia's major league capos. Which is he?

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As Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports, indictments from the Southern District Court of New York and the Southern District Court of Florida paint a picture of Barrera's multi-million dollar drug export business. Barrera was one of Colombia's most wanted drug lords until he was arrested in Venezuela in September 2012

One of Barrera's primary collaborators was another Colombian, Luis Agustín Caicedo Velandia, alias "Don Lucho," who was arrested in Buenos Aires in June 2010. The US indictments describes Barrera as Don Lucho's head of security and business partner. Don Lucho is accused of overseeing the export of some 1,000 tons of cocaine to the US over an unspecified period of time. Barrera is believed to have helped him with about 25 percent of those exports. 

The indictments also state that Barrera helped Don Lucho recover three stolen drug shipments, participating in the "interrogation, torture, and beating" of several people suspected in robbing the cargo.

Barrera's brutality has never been in doubt. He has admitted killing enemies during interrogations with law enforcement authorities, murdering a former bodyguard for acting "disrespectfully." He also confessed to ordering the killing of a notorious Colombian emeralds trader, quipping, "I couldn't let them kill me over nothing. You only get one life."

InSight Crime Analysis

El Tiempo's assessment that Barrera served as muscle for Don Lucho is surprising. Barrera has typically been represented as a powerful figure in Colombia's underworld, perhaps the most powerful figure, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos calling him the country's "last capo." His ability to move massive cocaine shipments drew comparisons to slain Medellin Cartel leader, Pablo Escobar.

The El Tiempo report depicts Don Lucho as the hidden power behind Barrera. It suggests that Barrera was the most visible and well-known trafficker who participated in this drug trafficking network, but Don Lucho was the man who was actually pulling all the strings. At the time of Don Lucho's arrest in Argentina in 2010, he was a little known figure in the Colombian underworld. This low profile likely allowed him to launder hundreds of millions of dollars, including a portion of illicit proceeds that were funneled into a Colombian soccer team.

Even if Barrera did some security jobs for Don Lucho - including punishing those suspected of stealing lucrative cocaine shipments - he was nevertheless a powerful drug trafficker in his own right. Barrera managed his own cocaine shipments separately from his partnership with Don Lucho, which brought in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profits. According to El Tiempo, two informants cited in the US indictments said that Barrera earned nearly $200 million from 85 tons of cocaine he trafficked between 2003 and 2008. The informants previously worked as money launderers and accountants for Barrera's organization.

By joining forces, it seems that Don Lucho and Barrera managed to build up a parallel drug trafficking network that was also extremely lucrative. An indictment from the Eastern District Court of New York gives some idea of the extent of this joint organization (download the indictment below). The document lists 15 financial transactions that Don Lucho, Barrera, and their collaborators conducted, or attempted to conduct, throughout 2007 and 2008. The average value of each transaction is some $11 million. 

Don Lucho, who was extradited to the US shortly after his arrest, proved to be extremely collaborative with US authorities. He handed over some $114 million worth of assets and provided the names and aliases of hundreds of collaborators, Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported. This allowed him to negotiate his prison sentence down to 10 years.

It is probable that as part of Don Lucho's cooperation, he provided authorities intelligence about Barrera, which may have helped lead to his capture. Barrera's previous service to Don Lucho's organization - which apparently included participating in torture - likely counted for little once Don Lucho found himself in a US prison and needing to negotiate. Barrera is currently awaiting extradition to the US in a high security prison in Ibague, Colombia. Once extradited, it is likely he will follow Don Lucho's example and be more than willing to share valuable intelligence in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.

Barrera was a pioneer in the Colombian underworld, working simultaneously with all sides in the civil conflict: Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and drug trafficking gangs like the Rastrojos. He was certainly one of Colombias top capos. It is unlikely he will be the last.

 

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