HomeNewsAnalysisColombia Massacre Sign of 'Loco' Druglord Under Pressure

Colombia Massacre Sign of 'Loco' Druglord Under Pressure


After six people were massacred in southern Colombia, authorities said the killing could be a sign of trouble brewing within the organization of one of the country's most powerful drug lords.

On June 1, a group of gunmen pulled up to a soccer pitch just outside of Villavicencio, Meta, and opened fire. Among those killed during the shootout were a communications staffer for Ecopetrol, the state-owned oil company, and a taxi driver.

Authorities say that the intended victim of the massacre was alias "Mojarro," accused of working for one of Colombia's most wanted men, Daniel Barrera, alias "El Loco," or "the madman." Mojarro, whose last name is reportedly Saldarriaga, is a local crime lord in southern Meta, smuggling arms, drugs and running a transport company that served as a cover, according to Cali-based newspaper El Pais.

According to authorities, Barrera may have orchestrated the hit against Mojarro because he is increasingly fearful that his former confidants could be clandestinely negotiating his surrender. Barrera is one of the most wanted drug traffickers in Colombia, with a reward of five billion pesos ($2.5 million) on his head in Colombia, plus five million dollars from the U.S. government.

There is evidence that the pressure is rising against Barrera's associates. One of Barrera's closest operatives, Julio Alberto Lozano, surrendered to U.S. authorities in Panama in November 2010. Another alleged business partner, Ignacio Alvarez Meyendorff, was arrested in a Buenos Aires airport in April. These two captures could indicate that Barrera has good reason to fear that members of his inner circle are under pressure to give key intelligence to law enforcement.

But suspicion might not be the only motive behind the Villavicencio killings. The massacre was obviously carried out by non-professionals who were not even able to identify Mojarro at the scene: he managed to escape untouched, although two of his alleged bodyguards (former police officers, according to national newspaper El Tiempo) were killed. It is possible that Barrera ordered the hit because Mojarro was suspected of mishandling a drug shipment, perhaps selling the product to another buyer without Barrera's approval. There are plenty of reasons for Barrera to be particularly nervous about how his product is handled, which may explain why it he felt it necessary to make a point through extreme violence.

Mojarro was allegedly close to Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias "Cuchillo," the deceased leader of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (Ejercito·Revolucionario Popular·Antiterrorista·Colombiano - ERPAC). Barrera has a business partnership with the ERPAC, buying most of his cocaine from the organization before shipping it on to the European market.

But the ERPAC has been on shaky ground since Guerrero was killed during a police raid on his country ranch last Christmas. The group's newly appointed leader, Jose Eberto Lopez Montero, alias "Caracho," allegedly once worked in one of Colombia's most rural and coca-rich departments, Vichada, where he coordinated drug shipments on Barrera's behalf. So there is some reason to believe that Lopez had the contacts and the business acumen to maintain the group's good relationship with Barrera.

But Barrera has other reasons to be nervous about the source of his product. Barrera enjoyed Guerrero's trust partly because the two coordinated the killing of a common rival, paramilitary warlord Miguel Arroyave, in September 2004. Barrera and Lopez Montero have no such bond.

Additionally, one of the foundations of the Barrera-ERPAC alliance was Barrera's ability to negotiate a pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) in eastern departments like Vichada. The ERPAC clashed heavily with the FARC when the drug gang first advanced into the department in 2008, attempting to take over the rebels' monopoly on the sale of coca base. Acting as an intermediary, Barrera negotiated a business alliance between the FARC and the ERPAC which still stands today: the rebels sell coca base, while the ERPAC processes it into cocaine and passes it on to Barrera's international network.

With Guerrero dead, the FARC-ERPAC alliance has managed to hold, with one key exception. In February, a faction of the ERPAC switched sides and began working as full time mercenaries for the FARC's 1st Front in Guaviare department. This may have caused concern, both for the ERPAC and Barrera, that more factions would begin to splinter off and perhaps descend into infighting. Such instability would spell bad news for Barrera's cocaine business. With the threat of the ERPAC falling apart into undisciplined factions, Barrera would be less willing to tolerate infractions elsewhere -- which may have been the cause of the Mojarro-related killings.

Mojarro might have angered Barrera by attempting to pass on intelligence to the authorities. But it is also possible that this massacre is another case of payback after a drug sale went awry. Barrera, after all, has many reasons to fear that the main source of his product -- the ERPAC and the FARC -- may soon become less than reliable. This would make other cases of insubordination even less tolerable.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation…

COLOMBIA / 28 OCT 2020

The reintegration process for demobilized FARC fighters in Colombia’s Eastern Plains is under threat by ex-FARC Mafia groups looking to…

AUC / 31 MAY 2021

Several demobilized members of a notorious right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia passed themselves off as a new self-defense force and…

About InSight Crime


Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.


InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.


Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …


InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…


Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…