CARACAS, Venezuela – An alleged Colombian drug lord 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 Wednesday.
Daniel Barrera, one of Colombia's most-wanted fugitives, was handcuffed as he was led from a truck to a waiting helicopter on Wednesday to be flown from the southwestern city of San Cristobal to the capital of Caracas.
The 50-year-old Barrera was captured on Tuesday after Colombian officials -- who had been working with U.S. and British authorities -- notified the Venezuelans that Barrera was making a call from one of dozens of public phones that they had been 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 on Tuesday by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Last year, authorities had announced a $2.7 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Barrera had been in Venezuela since 2008 and owned ranches worth millions of dollars, said Colombia's National Police director, Gen. Jose Roberto Leon, at a news conference in Washington.
Leon said Barrera had been posing as a cattle rancher and when detained was carrying fake identification 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 in San Cristobal. He said the man was alone and didn't resist.
Leon also 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 had traveled to Washington, where he received "another important contribution" from the CIA that allowed authorities to launch the operation to capture Barrera.
U.S. and Colombian officials have alleged that Barrera's gang supplies cocaine to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, which ships drugs to the United States.
The authorities had recently obtained information from an informant, Leon said.
U.S. 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.
Barrera's arrest was the third in Venezuela involving alleged Colombian drug kingpins during the past 12 months. The arrests have followed improved Colombian relations with Venezuela under Santos. The Colombian government has welcomed Venezuela's help in facilitating peace talks in Norway next month between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Venezuelan criminologist Fermin Marmol Garcia said Venezuela was showing signs it was cracking down on the drug trade by working with Colombian authorities, as well as receiving help, if indirectly, from Britain and the United States. Still, he said, it's clear Venezuela has become a key conduit for cocaine shipments in the past decade.
"It worries me to see so many international fugitives of justice in our territory," Marmol said in a telephone interview. He said they seem to "think Venezuela is a safe territory for them to keep cool, that it's a safe territory for them to protect themselves."
He said the authorities still need to do more to root out Barrera's lieutenants. "He must have had deputies. He must have had properties, places that should be raided," Marmol said.