Daniel "El Loco" (The Madman) Barrera has pleaded guilty to money laundering in a US federal court, in what could perhaps conclude the saga of Colombia's last major international drug lord.
In a federal court in Brooklyn, Barrera pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder tens of millions of dollars in drug profits, reported El Espectador. He had originally pleaded not guilty to the same charges just days after his extradition to the US in July 2013, but changed his position following months of negotiations, according to El Tiempo.
Barrera is also expected to plead guilty on separate charges of international drug trafficking, although it has not been determined when those trials will be held, reported El Pais.
US authorities accuse Barrera of leading a drug trafficking group that processed and trafficked 400 tons of cocaine annually from Colombia to the United States beginning in 1998.
The fallen drug lord faces up to 20 years in prison for money laundering, while a conviction for drug trafficking could result in a life sentence, according to El Espectador.
InSight Crime Analysis
Barrera may very well go down as "the last of the capos" in Colombia, as President Juan Manuel Santos called him following his capture in Venezuela in 2012. His guilty plea in the US is a reminder that Colombia's organized crime landscape has changed: smaller criminal groups with diverse revenue streams have largely replaced major transnational drug trafficking operations like the one led by El Loco.
Barrera's connections led him to become one of the most powerful drug traffickers in Colombia up until his arrest in Venezuela. His skill lay in his ability to forge a vast criminal network -- including former right-wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas -- to build his cocaine empire, something that may be hard to replicate, given the currently fragmented state of Colombia's underworld.
By the mid-1990s Barrera was a well known middleman, buying semi-processed cocaine from various fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and selling it to the Norte del Valle Cartel, and later to the Centauros Bloc of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries. Barrera formed an alliance with Centauros Bloc commanders in 2004, helping transform him from a facilitator to a major drug trafficker on Colombia's Eastern Plains.
SEE ALSO: El Loco Barrera Profile
In 2008, El Loco collaborated with Rastrojos leaders Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias "Combo" and Diego Perez Henao, alias "Diego Rastrojo" in orchestrating the assassination of a major Norte del Valle Cartel leader operating in Venezuela, giving Barrera control of a vast expanse of trafficking routes.
Given that there's no evidence Barrera or various other Colombian capos arrested in Venezuela have been replaced, it is possible the business they once ran has been largely absorbed by the Cartel of the Suns (Cartel de los Soles) -- a network of corrupt Venezuelan military officials their allies engaged in cocaine trafficking.