Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Colombia Captures 'Last Big Drug Lord'

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced the capture of Daniel Barrera Barrera, alias “El Loco,” who he described as the country’s last big-time drug lord.

In a televised announcement on Tuesday night, Santos said that Loco Barrera had been captured in the Venezuelan town of San Cristobal. The operation involved Venezuelan and Colombian authorities, as well as the CIA and Britain’s MI6, as the New York Times reports. Santos thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his help.

InSight Crime has a detailed profile of Barrera, which describes him as "the closest thing Colombia has to a present-day Pablo Escobar." Barrera served as a go-between for the guerrillas and the paramilitaries, buying coca base from the guerrillas to sell to paramilitary groups and drug cartels.

In his speech, Santos declared that the capture was the biggest blow against drug trafficking in recent years. He said that Barrera had spent more than “20 years dedicated to doing wrong to both Colombia and the world,” making “perverse alliances with the paramilitaries, with the FARC, with drug trafficking,” reports El Tiempo.

El Espectador reports that Barrera was betrayed by a member of his family who had receiving money from the authorities for months. The authorities had captured his main business partners, as well as his mother, nieces, and a brother who has Downs syndrome. Barrera had reportedly travelled to Brazil this year to visit family there. Colombian General Jose Roberto Leon Riaño said that Barrera had been in Venezuela since 2008, operating as a low-profile cattle rancher, reports El Tiempo.

Santos said that Barrera had been the boss of alias “Cuchillo,” who led neo-paramilitary organization ERPAC until he was killed by the security forces in 2010.

Barrera is set to be extradited to Colombia. He is also wanted by the United States.

News Briefs

  • The WSJ reports on the US’s move away from military aid to Mexico, refocusing its efforts on helping the country strengthen the rule of law, improve police, the justice system, and prisons. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top officials were due to meet with members of Felipe Calderon’s government on Tuesday to discuss the move, which the newspaper says constitutes the next stage in the drug war. The WSJ points out that this could be more cost effective for the US, as “training police and prosecutors is less expensive than financing a military with big purchases like helicopters.”
  • Brazil’s Congress is due to debate a law that would open indigenous territories, which cover 13 percent of its land, to mining projects. The WSJ reports that mining in this land is banned under the constitution until it can be regulated, and that the bill aims to set up these regulations. Mining companies would have to consult indigenous communities, and get congressional approval for each project, the congressman who proposed the measure told the WSJ. The newspaper quotes a priest as saying: "There are Indians dying of hunger on top of diamond deposits that they're not allowed to touch.” Meanwhile the Financial Times reports that Brazilian authorities are investigating whether a gold mining project by Canada’s Belo Sun Mining is endangering tribes in the Amazonian Para state.
  • The NYT has a report on the escape of 131 inmates from a prison in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras, near the US border, as mentioned in yesterday’s post. Prison officials claim that the prisoners bound and gagged three staff before making their escape, but the state public security secretary cast doubt on this version of events, saying he was not convinced.
  • The campaign team of Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has handed the authorities a list of 77 voting centers where armed groups are present, and could disrupt October’s vote, reports the AP.
  • Protests by miners in La Paz, Bolivia, broke out into violence when one group threw dynamite at a rival group, killing one and injuring four, the AP reports. The groups are vying for control of Colquiri, a recently-nationalized tin and zinc mine.
  • Trade between the US and Latin America hit a record high of $772 million last year, with US exports up 22 percent to $350 million, and imports up 20 percent to $420 million, reports the Miami Herald.
  • IDL-Reporteros looks at US diplomatic cables from the early 1990s which quote Peruvian army officials’ points of view on intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, who would later be convicted of weapons trafficking.
  • A Colombian senator has criticized the failure of the authorities to investigate demobilized paramilitary and guerrilla combatants in Colombia who are making false accusations in order to win lower sentences, in what he describes as a “cartel of witnesses,” as Semana reports. The Attorney General’s Office responded that some 15 ex-paramilitaries were set to be expelled from the Justice and Peace process for giving false testimony.
  • Brazil’s Truth Commission will only investigate crime committed by the military dictatorship, which was in place 1964-1985, and not by guerrilla opponents of the regime, the AP reports.
  • A group of 30 Cuban dissidents have called an end to their hunger strike after a week, following the government’s announcement that activist Jorge Vazquez Chaviano would be released from prison, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The LA Times looks at the influx of African immigrants to Brazil, noting that migration is viewed there “more as a curiosity than a political issue,” providing a better reception to newcomers than some other destinations for Africans, like southern Europe.

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