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Ismael “El Loco Barrera” Vargas is being pursued in his home country and across the border in Venezuela
Colombia’s most-wanted drug lord was captured in Mexico on Wednesday, a day after an intelligence operation with the help of US authorities that caught him along with two other people.
Ismael “El Loco Barrera” Vargas was captured in the Mexican border city of Matamoros in northeastern Tamaulipas state, the country’s interior ministry said in a statement.
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Vargas, 53, was the leader of Colombia’s once prolific Cartel of the Atlantic and is suspected of smuggling at least 500 tonnes of cocaine to Europe and US streets in the 1980s and 1990s.
Vargas was reported to have fled Colombia for Venezuela after a crackdown against him and his trafficking network under the presidency of Alvaro Uribe, who was denounced by Vargas and other cartel leaders in a statement in Spanish posted on a website maintained by the Gulf cartel in 2008.
Uribe, who is now a senator, strongly denies allegations he personally killed members of Vargas’s network and in 2007 the head of a US anti-narcotics task force, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) James Mazzucco, also disputed the claims.
Uribe’s tenure saw the DEA close two key offices in the country and its top 10 traffickers were arrested or killed, according to the DEA.
Vargas is being pursued in his home country and across the border in Venezuela, where he has been accused of working with Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro. He will face drug trafficking and homicide charges in Mexico.
Vargas was named as Colombia’s most-wanted criminal last month by Uribe, who called on President Juan Manuel Santos to capture him in an official proclamation.
A fugitive for almost four decades, Vargas is reported to have spent the time recovering in his home country from a jet ski accident in 2014. He was last seen by his son and a relative in a video posted on social media in 2016, for which there have been no clues in his return.
Vargas is wanted by the Colombian justice and justice authorities in Venezuela.