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Venezuelan drug lord changed look with surgeries

Thursday, September 20, 2012    

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — One of Colombia's most-wanted drug lords changed his appearance through repeated plastic surgeries before he was captured in Venezuela while making a call from a public payphone, Venezuela's justice minister said yesterday.

Daniel Barrera was handcuffed as he was led from a truck to a waiting helicopter to be flown from the south-western city of San Cristobal to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.

The 50-year-old Barrera was captured Tuesday after Colombian officials, who had been working with US and British authorities, notified Venezuela that Barrera was making a call from one of dozens of public phones being monitoring in the area, Venezuelan Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said at a news conference.

The arrest of the man known as "El Loco," or "The Madman," was announced Tuesday evening by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who called Barrera "the last of the great capos".

Barrera had been in Venezuela since 2008 and owned ranches worth millions of dollars, Colombia's National Police director, General Jose Roberto Leon, said at a news conference in Washington.

Leon said Barrera had been posing as a cattle rancher and when detained was carrying a fake passport with the name Jose Tomas Lucumi that also said he was a resident of the Colombian city of Cali.

The Colombian police chief thanked Venezuelan authorities for their cooperation in capturing Barrera. Officials said the man was alone and didn't resist when he was arrested at the payphone in front of a church in San Cristobal.

Leon said the British intelligence service MI-6 had provided "special training and technology" that helped make the capture possible. He said he had traveled to MI-6's headquarters last week, and that on Tuesday he went to Washington, where he received "another important contribution" from the CIA that allowed authorities to launch the operation to capture Barrera.

Various informants helped the authorities find Barrera, and a reward of about $2.5 million will be paid, Leon said. He noted that US authorities had also offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

US and Colombian officials have alleged that Barrera's gang supplies cocaine to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, which ships drugs to the United States.

El Aissami called it Venezuela's "most important blow" against drug trafficking to date and said Venezuelan authorities had been monitoring 69 public payphones since Colombia alerted them August 6 that Barrera was thought to be in the area.

US officials have frequently accused Venezuelan authorities of not doing enough to curb drug trafficking, and have said that most of the drug flights ferrying cocaine northward from South America leave from Venezuela.

US-Venezuelan counter-drug cooperation has been sharply scaled back since 2005, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez suspended cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and accused it of being a front for espionage.

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