Colombia’s top cocaine lord Wilber Varela, kingpin of the notorious Norte del Valle Cartel, was found shot dead in Venezuela, authorities in Caracas announced Feb. 1. The bullet-riddled body of Varela, known by the nicknames “Jabon” (soap) and “Detergente” (detergent), was discovered Jan. 30 along with that of another man in a tourist cabin at Loma de Los Angeles, Mérida state, in western Venezuela.
The bodies were discovered by the cabin owner, who alerted authorities. The bodies had been dead less than 48 hours, and had more than seven bullet wounds. “It has been conclusively proven that this is drug trafficker Wilber Varela,” said Nestor Luis Reverol, head of Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Agency. “Thirty-two matching characteristics have been verified” identifying the suspect, Reverol told reporters. Despite rising tensions between the two countries, Colombia sent Venezuelan authorities forensic samples to aid in the identification.
Varela, a former National Police sergeant, began his career in crime in the 1980s as an entry-level hit-man for the Cali Cartel. He ascended to become boss of the Valle Cartel, which rose following the decline of the Cali and Medellín cartels in the ’90s, and is credited with handling some 60% of the cocaine flowing out of Colombia. Varela was on the DEA’s most-wanted list, with a $5 million price on his head. He was indicted by the US Justice Department in May 2004. The indictment said the cartel used AUC paramilitary forces to protect its operations.
Since 2004 a number of top Valle Cartel figures have been arrested or killed. Last year Diego Montoya and Juan Carlos Ramírez were nabbed in Colombia and Brazil, respectively. “No clear deputy exists” who could replace Varela to run the cartel now, Gustavo Alvarez, a Colombian expert on narcotics trafficking, told AFP. “The void is very large.” (El Universal, Caracas, Feb. 3; EuroNews, Feb. 2; AFP, Feb. 1)