- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Late Tuesday, U.S. officials announced the extradition of Colombian drug kingpin Daniel "Loco" Barrera Barrera to New York City, where he will face the first of three arraignments in the Southern District of New York on Wednesday on charges that include conspiring to launder money and import cocaine to the United States — counts that, taken together, could land him in jail for the rest of his life.
The indictments against Barrera (the first of which is included below) are searing, alleging that since 1998 El Loco ("the crazy one," a.k.a. "Arnoldo" or "Germán") has worked intimately with two terrorist organizations (Colombia’s left-wing FARC and right-wing, now-defunct AUC) and presided over a Colombia-based cocaine manufacturing and trafficking syndicate that produces just under 800,000 pounds of the drug each year. That’s roughly the maximum takeoff weight of your typical Boeing 747.
"If any one case epitomizes the nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking and the destructive impact on Colombian society, this is it," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in the government’s statement on Tuesday.
Barrera, hailed as the "last of the great capos" in Colombia’s bloody and protracted drug war, was captured while using a payphone in Venezuela last year and subsequently sent back to Colombia — as part of a dramatic 45-day operation involving American, British, Colombian, and Venezuelan authorities, including the CIA and MI6. Reports noted that Barrera, now 51, had undergone plastic surgery and burnt his fingertips to disguise himself. At the time, Venezuela’s improbable cooperation with the United States was chalked up to Hugo Chávez’s desire to burnish his anti-crime credentials — especially in light of American accusations that Venezuela was not doing enough to combat drug trafficking.
Barrera, a skilled middleman who got his start in the drug trade in the 1980s and earned his nickname for ruthlessly avenging his brother’s murder, has been awaiting extradition in a Colombian jail ever since, as authorities laid claim to his vast assets. As InSight Crime notes, El Loco is the "closest thing Colombia has to a modern Pablo Escobar." The difference? Escobar never landed in a New York City courtroom. Like Escobar used to say, "Better a grave in Colombia than a prison in the United States."