January 02, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 1 -- One of Colombia's most-wanted drug lords has been found slain, Venezuela's top counter-narcotics official said Friday.
Fingerprints of the man who was found shot to death in the Venezuelan city of Merida on Wednesday matched those of Wilber Varela, said Col. Nestor Reverol, head of the National Anti-Drug Agency.
Varela, alias "Jabón," or "Soap," led a war with rival traffickers that killed more than 1,000 people in recent years, and the underworld is awash with tales of brutality that made him a household name in Colombia.
"Wilber Varela in the last few years was truly the main leader of Colombian drug-trafficking organizations," Colombia's national police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, said in Bogota. He noted that Varela, a former police officer, had entered the drug underworld as a hired killer.
Varela had a private army along the western coast of Colombia that protected cocaine routes and eliminated rivals. His war with a rival in the Norte del Valle cartel, Diego Montoya, plagued the city of Cali and much of southwestern Colombia with violence.
Varela was indicted in U.S. federal courts on drug trafficking charges in 2004, and the U.S. State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.
Colombian officials, who have lamented what they call poor counter-drug cooperation by Venezuela's government, had previously said Varela was living in Venezuela.
Varela and another man were found shot to death in a cabin at an Andean tourist resort where they were staying, Reverol said. Cleaning staff found their bodies in the morning, and other men who had arrived with Varela drove away later, he said.
The Colombian carried a false identification card with the name Jose Antonio Perez Chacon, but a comparison of fingerprints showed "they are the same person," Reverol said.
Varela's face bore no resemblance to photos of him, he added without elaborating. The remark suggests Varela might have undergone plastic surgery.
The Norte del Valle cartel has taken several hits in the past year, losing Juan Carlos "Chupeta" Ramirez Abadia, who was arrested in Brazil, and then Montoya -- known as "Don Diego" -- who was captured by the Colombian army and is awaiting extradition to the United States.
Norte del Valle is Colombia's most famous remaining cartel, but it is also relatively new, emerging from the decaying Cali cartel in the 1990s. The now-splintered group for years combined the violence of the Medellin cartel with the smarts and bribery of the Cali cartel to keep a low profile.
With Varela dead, it leaves brothers Miguel Angel Mejia-M¿nera and Victor Manuel Mej¿a-M¿nera, known as "Los Mellizos," as Colombia's most-wanted alleged drug lords.