'Loco,' Colombia's Last Drug Lord, Extradited to New York

Late Tuesday, U.S. officials announced the extradition of Colombian drug kingpin Daniel "Loco" Barrera Barrera to New York City, where he will face the first of three arraignments in the Southern District of New York on Wednesday on charges that include conspiring to launder money and import cocaine to the United States -- counts that, taken together, could land him in jail for the rest of his life.

The indictments against Barrera (the first of which is included below) are searing, alleging that since 1998 El Loco ("the crazy one," a.k.a. "Arnoldo" or "Germán") has worked intimately with two terrorist organizations (Colombia's left-wing FARC and right-wing, now-defunct AUC) and presided over a Colombia-based cocaine manufacturing and trafficking syndicate that produces just under 800,000 pounds of the drug each year. That's roughly the maximum takeoff weight of your typical Boeing 747.

"If any one case epitomizes the nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking and the destructive impact on Colombian society, this is it," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in the government's statement on Tuesday. 

Barrera, hailed as the "last of the great capos" in Colombia's bloody and protracted drug war, was captured while using a payphone in Venezuela last year and subsequently sent back to Colombia -- as part of a dramatic 45-day operation involving American, British, Colombian, and Venezuelan authorities, including the CIA and MI6. Reports noted that Barrera, now 51, had undergone plastic surgery and burnt his fingertips to disguise himself. At the time, Venezuela's improbable cooperation with the United States was chalked up to Hugo Chávez's desire to burnish his anti-crime credentials -- especially in light of American accusations that Venezuela was not doing enough to combat drug trafficking.

Barrera, a skilled middleman who got his start in the drug trade in the 1980s and earned his nickname for ruthlessly avenging his brother's murder, has been awaiting extradition in a Colombian jail ever since, as authorities laid claim to his vast assets. As InSight Crime notes, El Loco is the "closest thing Colombia has to a modern Pablo Escobar." The difference? Escobar never landed in a New York City courtroom. Like Escobar used to say, "Better a grave in Colombia than a prison in the United States."  

US v. Daniel Barrera Barrera SDNY Indictment-1 by Uri Friedman






Can the U.S. Create a National Park on the Moon?

The Hill is reporting the rather startling news that Reps. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) have introduced legislation to create a National Historic Park at the Apollo landing sites on the moon. "As commercial enterprises and foreign nations acquire the ability to land on the Moon, it is necessary to protect the Apollo lunar landing sites for posterity," the bill reads.

On first reading, you might wonder -- as I did -- how the United States can establish a national historical park outside of its borders. Neil Armstrong may have planted a flag on the moon, but that doesn't mean we own the place. 

This is probably why the "park" established by the bill would consist only of the "artifacts left on the surface of the moon" as part the Apollo 11 through 17 missions, including the lunar modules and various other equipment. This makes more sense: U.S. ships are generally considered part of American territory, so why not spacecraft? The bill also specifies that the U.S. must ask UNESCO to designate the Apollo 11 site as a World Heritage site. 

But what's to stop some rogue state from mining for Helium-3 right next to Apollo 11, ruining the Sea of Tranquility's atmosphere of ... tranquility? Would it be possible to simply annex a little enclave of the moon to protect it from rapacious space traders?

Not at the moment. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States is a party,  specifies that "Outer space and celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." But in a 2012 FP article speculating on what would happen if China ever attempted to annex lunar territory, political scientist John Hickman argued that it wouldn't be too hard to get around this: 

Although the 1967 space treaty asserts common ownership of the entire universe beyond Earth's atmosphere, it also permits signatory states to withdraw from its terms with only a year's notice. And there's no law governing whether you can fly a rocket to the moon and land a ship there.

After renouncing the treaty, Beijing could annex regions of the moon and justify its actions with two arguments: First, in allowing states to withdraw, the treaty implicitly recognizes the possibility of claiming sovereign extraterrestrial territory. Second, after withdrawing from the treaty, China could declare any annexed lunar land terra nullius -- territory belonging to no one and therefore subject to national claims; Article 70 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties says that states renouncing or withdrawing from multilateral treaties are released "from any obligation further to perform" the terms of the treaty. Besides, most international law on the question of sovereignty claims defers to self-determination -- the wishes of the inhabitants. Since, as far as we know, there are no inhabitants on the moon, this doesn't apply.

The bill in question here obviously doesn't go nearly that far, but if we really want to establish a lunar Yellowstone, a little bit of aggressive unilateralism might be required. I can think of one GOP heavy-hitter who might want to take this project on.

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