The fall of Daniel "El Loco" Barrera has left his drug empire in Colombia's Eastern Plains up for grabs. Several groups are in a position to make a play for it, with control of coca crops and trafficking routes into Venezuela as the prizes.
On September 21, three days after Colombian kingpin Loco Barrera was captured in Venezuela, El Tiempo reported that police had evidence that a former member of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC), Jose Nieto, alias "Candelo" or "Bayardo," might have taken over part of Barrera's stake in the Eastern Plains.
According to the newspaper, intelligence reports suggest that Nieto is based in the Eastern Plains and runs cocaine trafficking routes through the provinces of Vichada, Meta, Guaviare, and Guainia, and into Venezuela.
The report offers little information on Nieto's criminal history with the ERPAC, or how he came to be a trusted ally of Barrera. El Tiempo also suggests that the former leader of a team of hitmen working for Loco Barrera, Carlos Antonio Angulo, alias "El Pollo," may have stepped in to fill the void left by the kingpin.
Barrera has had ties with the ERPAC since its inception in the mid-2000s due to his long-standing relationship with its founder Pedro Oliverio Guerrero, alias "Cuchillo." The two worked together purchasing coca base from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) before processing it and sending it to Venezuela, from where it would go on to Europe and the United States.
Cuchillo was killed by Colombian police in December 2010, and some 260 members of the ERPAC demobilized a year later under the command of Jose Eberto Lopez, alias "Caracho." However, Loco Barrera still reportedly maintained ties with one part of what remained of the organization -- the Meta faction, which is fighting rivals in the Vichada faction for control of trafficking corridors. A shipment of 150 rifles said to belong to Loco Barrera that was seized in May was thought to be intended for the Meta bloc.
InSight Crime Analysis
Loco Barrera had a presence in the Eastern Plains from the 1980s, rising to become the key player in the region thanks to his dominance of the cocaine trade -- he is estimated by the US to have shipped up to 400 tons of cocaine a year -- and ties to a wide variety of criminal groups, including the Rastrojos. His removal, therefore, could throw the area into a state of upheaval.
Given his history with the ERPAC, it would certainly make sense for a former member of the group to inherit Loco Barrera's trafficking corridors. However, too little is known about Nieto for the claim to be verified, and El Tiempo is the only source reporting this information. What's more, there are a number of other elements in the region who could be emboldened by Barrera's arrest to take control of his corridors, making any transition to an heir far from seamless.
Principal among these elements is the Vichada faction of the ERPAC, led by Martin Farfan, alias "Pijarbey." In an effort to strengthen his position, Pijarbey has reportedly made an alliance with the Urabeños, a group with significant presence in the area (see map, above). In addition, Barrera's allies in the Meta faction lost their leader Rubber Antonio Navarro, alias "Flaco Freddy," when he was detained on September 16. The dynamics of the area, therefore, appeared to be entering a period of uncertainty even prior to Loco Barrera's arrest.
Even if Nieto, or El Pollo for that matter, manages to assume control, there is no guarantee that he would be able to maintain the alliances that Barrera had. The FARC, Barrera's primary source of coca base, may shift its ties to the Vichada faction or simply cut out the middle man and sell its product directly to Mexican cartels. Though the Rastrojos were also allied with Barrera, their presence in the area is too small for them to be considered a significant threat to any bid for control by a Urabeños-Pijarbey alliance.
It seems more likely, then, that the myriad conflicting interests in the region will push it into a period of flux, rather than that a relative unknown would be able to move in and fill the enormous vacuum left by Loco Barrera, as El Tiempo suggests.