Colombia’s ‘El Loco’ Barrera Gets 35 years in US Prison

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A New York court sentenced Daniel “El Loco” Barrera to 35 years in prison, closing the book not only on the career of one of the biggest cocaine traffickers since Pablo Escobar, but also on the era of Colombia’s hegemonic drug lords.

On July 25, Judge Gregory Woods of Federal District Court in Manhattan condemned “El Loco” Barrera to 35 years and fined him $10 million, reported The New York Times.

“Simply put, the scope of the offenses here is staggering,” said Woods. “It’s hard to exaggerate the quantity of narcotics for which he was responsible.” 

Prosecutors said that Barrera, considered Colombia’s biggest drug capo of the last 15 years, led an organization that trafficked some 400 tons of cocaine around the world each year from 1998 and 2011. They said the operation transported at least 720 tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States in less than 10 years, according to The Associated Press. Barrera also stood accused of exchanging cocaine for 1,000 AK-47s, which were allegedly used to commit multiple murders.

Defense lawyers sought a lesser sentence for Barrera, saying he sought to turn himself in voluntarily to US authorities a year before his capture and had encouraged former associates to surrender to justice. But prosecutors were not moved to recommend a sentence reduction.

“The magnitude of the defendant’s violence and drug trafficking outweighed any information he could provide,” said assistant US attorney in Manhattan, Andrea Surratt. 

Barrera was captured in Venezuela in September 2012 following an international manhunt. Prior to his capture, he altered his appearance through plastic surgery and even attempted burning off his fingerprints to avoid being identified. After his arrest, he was deported to Colombia and extradited to the United States in July 2013.

InSight Crime Analysis

“El Loco” Barrera, who earned his nickname for the revenge he exacted on a group of men who killed his brother, was the closest case Colombia has had to a modern Pablo Escobar. His power arose in part due to his skill as a mediator between Colombia’s competing armed factions, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and various paramilitary blocs. Those abilities and the resulting connections allowed him to build a vast network of collaborators capable of transporting drugs to four different continents

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Loco Barrera

Since his arrest, no one has been able to replicate Barrera’s stature among drug lords. Henry de Jesús López, alias “Mi Sangre,” was seen as a possible contender to be the next big drug capo, but was captured in Argentina the month after Barrera’s arrest. Simply put, in the current Colombian drug panorama there is no individual capable of moving as much drugs as Barrera did at the height of his criminal activities.

Indeed, Miami US Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer said Barrera’s “sentencing closes the chapter on [his] reign as one of the largest cocaine traffickers in history.” In the words of Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara: “The man Colombian authorities have called ‘the last of the great kingpins,’ now stands convicted and sentenced in an American court of law.” 

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