One of Colombia’s most- wanted drug lords has been arrested in Venezuela after rare international co-operation involving US and UK intelligence agencies.
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said the capture of Daniel Barrera, who had a $5m bounty on his head in the US, was “perhaps the most important arrest” in recent years.
Mr Barrera was seized by Venezuelan authorities with Colombian police in San Cristobal, about 15 miles from the Colombian border, after receiving information from Bogotá last month. Mr Santos said the operation that led to the arrest had initially been directed from Washington, with the co-operation of the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s MI6.
“Venezuela gives a new demonstration of its indomitable will in the fight against drug trafficking,” said Venezuela’s foreign ministry. On Friday, Venezuela was listed as an underachiever in preventing drug trafficking for the fourth year running in President Barack Obama’s drugs memorandum.
Mr Barrera is “the closest thing Colombia has to a present-day Pablo Escobar,” according to InSight Crime. With a $5m bounty on his head in the US, he controlled a smuggling ring capable of sending as much as 10 tonnes of cocaine a month to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, the most powerful organised crime gang in the Americas.
“He has dedicated 20 years to doing bad things to Colombia and the world,” said Mr Santos, who thanked Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, for his co-operation.
While Colombia has long co-operated with the US in the “war on drugs”, it was only when Mr Santos took power in 2010 that Colombia’s tense relationship with Venezuela’s socialist leader began to improve, leading to the arrest of a number of Colombian drug traffickers in Venezuela. However, Venezuelan co-operation with the US has been minimal since Mr Chávez kicked out the US Drug Enforcement Administration from Venezuela in 2005, accusing them of spying.
“This is the most important blow to drug trafficking in the country,” said Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s justice minister on Twitter. He said Mr Barrera had been caught by tracing a call from a public telephone.