The murder of Leonidas Vargas caused a big stir in both Spain and in Colombia, but because of two different reasons. The Spaniards could not get over their surprise over the way in which the crime occurred. And in Colombia many ask themselves who is responsible for the death of the last of the big d
rug trafficking capos who emerged in the 1980s.
Although for the Spaniards Vargas was a complete unknown, his death occupied newspaper headlines there. That is not surprising. The Colombian drug trafficker, known by the alias “El Viejo” or “The Old Man,” was assassinated last Thursday by two contract killers who entered his room on the fifth floor of Hospital 12 de Octubre in Madrid where he had been hospitalized for a week. With a pistol with a silencer and in front of another patient who was in the same room, the killers shot him four times and fled. In Spain, crimes like that aren’t common. That is why the case has caused such shock.
In Colombia, where unfortunately it isn’t that unusual for assassins to enter hospitals to finish off their victims, Vargas’ death caused a lot of unease, especially in the mafia world. At 59 years of age, Vargas had been involved in the drug trafficking business for more than three decades. At the end of the 70s he met Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, alias the 'Mexicano.’ With that mafia head, Vargas became a part of the Medellín cartel. His center of operations was always in Caquetá and in Putumayo, in the south of Colombia, from where he supplied drugs for the “Mexicano,” Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa brothers among other cartel members. In little time he amassed a great fortune and became one of the most powerful mafia capos in the country.
In 1993 he was arrested by police in Cartagena and received two sentences of 19 and 26 years in prison for illegal enrichment, drug trafficking, homicide and arms possession. In 2001 he was freed after obtaining reductions in his sentences in reward for studying and working. After leaving prison he lived for a while in Chile but later moved with some of his family to Spain.
Although he no longer had debts with justice and had been able to save a big part of his illegal fortune, excessive ambition led Vargas to continue in the “business.” In 2003 he was investigated by the Colombian Fiscalía, the prosecutor general’s office, because a private plane of his loaded with drugs crashed in Honduras. He was exonerated but the two investigators who launched the investigation were dismissed afterwards when it was discovered that there had been irregularities in the case.
In Spain, Vargas became the ideal contact for new generations of drug traffickers who sent drugs to Europe, among them Daniel “El Loco” Barrera. Nevertheless, Vargas’ luck changed in July 2006 when Spanish authorities detected his activities and arrested him. A few months ago he was placed under house arrest because of his delicate state of health, as he had serious heart problems. In July of this year a trial was to begin against him. That is where some of the reasons for his murder could lie. In the drug trafficking world it is said that behind the crime could be Barrera and Pedro Oliverio Guerrero alias “Cuchillo,” another of Vargas’ partners. They may have decided that they didn’t want to run the risk that “El Viejo” would implicate them at the trial, which would complicate even further their legal situation. In addition, Vargas was no longer “useful” because for the last two years he had been in prison and in that time those two traffickers had made new European contacts to smuggle drugs through Venezuela. With Vargas’ death the last representative of a generation of drug traffickers has been annihilated.