Colombian authorities seized a shipment of 150 rifles which kingpin Daniel "El Loco" Barrera was allegedly shipping to his long-time allies the ERPAC, in a sign that the drug gang remains relevant despite its supposed demobilization.
The rifles, 146 of which were Iranian-made AK-47s, were discovered by Colombia's police intelligence unit (DIJIN) in the central department of Meta, reported El Tiempo. The authorities said that the weapons belonged to Loco Barrera and were heading to a faction of some 700 fighters from the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC), a neo-paramilitary group that supposedly demobilized in December last year.
Incoming national police chief Jose Roberto Leon Riaño told El Tiempo that Loco Barrera was allying himself with the group in order to strengthen his control over trafficking routes through the Eastern Plains. According to the police, the ERPAC remnants are offering Loco Barrera drug routes and processing labs in exchange for arms.
The DIJIN added that Loco Barrera may be seeking to contract the ERPAC as his military arm, to help secure his return to Colombia. He is thought to have been out of the country for some time, moving between Argentina, Paraguay and Venezuela.
InSight Crime Analysis
Loco Barrera's ties with the ERPAC stretch back to the group's inception in late 2004, thanks to his long-standing relationship with their former leader Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias "Cuchillo." Cuchillo's death in December 2010, and the surrender of his successor Jose Eberto Lopez Montero, alias "Caracho," along with some 290 men in December, however, appeared to put an end to the Loco Barrera-ERPAC partnership.
It initially seemed that ERPAC's demobilization could create a power vacuum in the Eastern Plains, allowing the Urabeños or the Rastrojos to move in.
However, ERPAC's demobilization was farcical -- around 270 of the 290 demobilized were released and a further 200 failed to join the process, meaning most of the group are still at large and likely continuing their illegal activities. Indeed, if police are correct that the weapons haul was headed for 700 ERPAC fighters, the group would only have gained manpower since the demobilization.
The Eastern Plains is too important for Loco Barrera to let it go easily, and Colombia's most-wanted trafficker seems to have maintained a strong foothold in the region where he has operated since the 1980s.See InSight Crime's map of ERPAC's area of influence
The police's suggestion that Loco Barrera may be considering a return to Colombia under the guard of ERPAC seems unlikely. Colombian and US authorities have stepped up the pressure considerably over the last year, striking a series of heavy blows against him with the arrest of several high-profile associates, most recently in Paraguay on May 19. What's more, the US indicted him in September. There are rumors that Loco Barrera is negotiating his handover to the US, but he will want to do this on his own terms.