Venezuela nabs Colombian kingpin 'Loco' Barrera

| Sept. 19, 2012 | Caracas, Venezuela

Published by GlobalPost

The Venezuelan government Wednesday morning lauded its capture of Daniel Barrera, a Colombian drug trafficker known as “El Loco,” in San Cristobal on its side of the dense jungle border with Colombia.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos described Barrera on Tuesday as “last of the great capos.” Security think tank InSight Crime called him Colombia’s closest modern-day equivalent to infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

The capture again demonstrates a warming of relations between Venezuela and Colombia after years of tension. With the involvement of both the American CIA and British MI6 security services, the news also points toward Venezuela working at least tacitly with organizations that President Hugo Chavez has for years denounced as imperialist agents.

The operation to capture Barrera took 45 days and involved 14 Venezuelan intelligence teams working across three Venezuelan states as well as the capital, according to Venezuela’s Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami.

“When the US publishes information … attacking Venezuela as a country that does not collaborate in this fight, we can respond with dignity,” El Aissami said Wednesday. “Venezuela is not a colony of the US.”

Washington repeatedly has accused the Chavez administration of slacking in the drug war. "The United States has concluded that Venezuela demonstrably failed to meet its international counternarcotics obligations every year since 2005," the State Department says.

Barrera was wanted in Colombia and the US, which together offered a $7.7 million bounty. The Colombian government said Barrera's smuggling ring was able to send 10 tons of cocaine monthly to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, headed by that country’s modern-day equivalent to Escobar, Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman.

Two other alleged Colombian drug traffickers have been arrested in Venezuela in the past year.

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela have matured considerably over the last couple of years. In 2010, Santos accused Chavez of attempting to assassinate him though later called him his “new best friend.”

The pair are walking a tightrope, however, as they are not natural allies. It was former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s cozying up to the United States that analysts say pushed the two countries apart.

Santos, however, has surprised many in his diplomatic balancing act. He even extradited alleged drug trafficker Walid Makled to Venezuela — to the immense anger of Washington — in April last year, in a show of solidarity with Colombia’s Latin American neighbor.

Wednesday Santos may upset the balance somewhat as he meets in Bogota with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski. Capriles is due to take on Chavez in Venezuela’s Oct. 7 election, the closest threat yet to the strongman’s 14-year tenure.