Studied Civil Engineering at the National University of Colombia and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1943, He entered politics in 1943 when he became a city council member in the town of Durania for the Liberal Party.
He was then elected to the lower house of Congress, but went into exile in the late 1940s because of violence between liberals and conservatives. He served another term in the Senate until 1966, when he was elected mayor of Colombia"s capital, Bogotá. He served in that position until 1969, when he became a director of the World Bank until 1974.
He then served as ambassador to the United States from 1977 until 1980.
Barco was elected president of Colombia with 58% of the vote in 1986. He supported anti-poverty programs, renewed dialogue with leftist guerillas and fought drug traffickers.
Though he was popular within the international community, he became less popular in Colombia because the drug traffickers became more violent after he started to move against them. His restrictive economic policies at first doomed the country.
After two years of this, The Economic Openness program was initiated by his administration, which would open Colombian markets to the world and recharge the country"s economy.
He served one 4-year term. When he left the in 1990, he served as ambassador to Britain again until 1992. Barco was diagnosed with cancer and he died on May 20, 1997 in Bogotá when he was 75.
He is now buried at Central Cemetery of Bogotá in Bogotá.
Barco returned to Colombia in 1954 to help negotiate the peace process which allowed the formation of the National Front between liberals and conservatives, which lasted two decades.
He became a member of the Senate, the upper house of Congress in 1958, left become the ambassador to Britain in 1961, and returned to Colombia in 1962.