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.
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.
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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.