Colombian authorities have arrested Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco,” a kingpin with a criminal record stretching back more than 20 years who the government has described as the country’s “last capo.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Loco Barrera’s capture in a September 18 address, saying that he had been arrested in the Venezuelan border town of San Cristobal. According to Santos, Barrera is the biggest drug lord to be captured in recent years, putting an end to his criminal career of more than 20 years, “dedicated to doing wrong to both Colombia and the world.”
Loco Barrera is known as an old school organized crime boss. As InSight Crime has pointed out, his extensive influence in political and military circles made him the closest thing that Colombia had to a modern day Pablo Escobar. Anti-drug officials considered him the second most sought-after drug trafficker in the world after Mexico’s Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Barrera owed his considerable influence to his ability to develop alliances with diverse and often competing groups. During his rise to power in the 1990s and early 2000s, he made a name for himself as a reliable middleman, buying coca base from areas controlled by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and selling processed cocaine to groups like the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the then-mighty Norte del Valle Cartel.
Following the AUC’s demoblization in the mid 2000s, Barrera used his contacts amongst the paramilitaries to build up a vast criminal empire based on the drug trade, controlling trafficking routes on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts as well as into neighboring Brazil and Venezuela. His capture in San Cristobal backs reports from the Colombian police, who said that he had been living in Venezuela since 2008.
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Loco Barrera’s capture comes after repeated rumors that he was negotiating his surrender with US and Colombian authorities, much like the leader of the Rastrojos gang, Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” who allegedly turned himself in to the United States in April.
Colombia’s president hailed the arrest as a triumph, called Loco Barrera the country’s “last capo” Indeed, Barrera was the last remaining figure from an earlier era in Colombia’s underworld, in which drug traffickers operated with impunity and with little fear of being caught. According to Security Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon, with Loco Barrera’s capture, the Colombian government has now dismantled some 30 percent of the drug trafficking networks that existed at the turn of the century.
In addition to serving as a symbolic turning point in the Colombian government’s battle with insecurity and drug trafficking, his capture could be a positive sign for upcoming negotiations with the FARC. As Silla Vacia points out, Loco Barrera was a key contact for FARC fronts involved in drug trafficking, and his arrest gives them another reason to consider participating in the peace process. The arrest of Loco Barrera, once considered “untouchable,” could make the prospect of continuing in the drug trade less attractive to any FARC fronts considering defying a peace deal and “going rogue.”
Still, while Loco Barrera is considered the last of a generation of old school drug kingpins, there is evidence that another generation could be on the rise. There are other, newer powerbrokers in the drug trade who show signs of developing the kind of influence wielded by Barrrera. One of these is Urabeños boss Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias “Mi Sangre,” who has proven difficult to arrest. Though officials detained him in June 2010, he was released without charges. Now, he may be poised to unite two violent drug gangs and become one of the most powerful figures in the country’s criminal underworld.